North Korea and South Korea, two countries that one would think are exactly the same, couldn’t be more different from one another. In fact, their politics, economies, and cultures are so vastly different, that unification between the North and South seems all but impossible these days. We thought it would be interesting to take a closer look at what would happen if the North and South once again took-up arms against one another, in this episode of The Infographics Show, North Korea vs. South Korea.
North Korea may be something of a stranger to the developed world, a country purposefully hidden from the prying eyes of the global media, but one thing it doesn’t mind us seeing are glimpses of its military strength. The country might only have a small population of just under 25 million, but it’s reported that as of 2016 it has around 1,190,000 active military personnel, 600,000 reserves, and a massive 5,889,000 paramilitary force. This makes The Korean People’s Army the largest military force on the planet, employing 7,679,000 people, around a quarter of its population. By comparison, it is 2.5 times bigger than that of the most powerful military in the world, the USA.. Size isn’t everything though, as we will soon see.
Considering North Korea’s huge number of able fighters, you might not be surprised to learn that South Korea also has one of the world’s largest military forces. As of 2016, The Republic of Korea Armed Forces consists of around 3,725,000 people, from its fifty-one and a half million population. 625,000 are active personnel and 3,100,000 act as reserves.
With a military of such numbers, North Korea has to pump 25 percent of its 40 billion dollar GDP into its defense budget. South Korea has an estimated $2 trillion GDP, of which 36.8 billion is spent on its military.
In terms of where the money goes North Korea lives up to its epithet of ‘The Secretive State,’ and its military arsenal and nuclear capabilities have been a matter speculation for some time. According to the Federation of American Scientists in 2017, North Korea has an estimated 10 nuclear warheads. Not many compared to the United States’ 6,800, but 10 more than its neighboring southern counterpart. It’s said South Korea has the technology to build nuclear weapons but has so far chosen not to do so. It’s also protected by the USA under what is called a ‘Nuclear Umbrella’.
In terms of artillery, the North Korean Army has around 6,600 tanks, 4,100 armored fighting vehicles, 2,250 Self-Propelled Guns, 4,300 Towed-Artillery, and 2,400 Multiple-Launch Rocket Systems.
The South Korean army has 2,654 tanks, 2,660 AFVs, 1,990 SPGs, 5,374 Towed-Artillery, and 214 MLRSs. With the north’s huge army and its bigger artillery, it certainly has the advantage on land. It’s also worth noting that unlike its prosperous neighbors, North Korea implements a songun policy on its population, meaning that military service comes before everything. South Koreans on the other hand enjoy a much less battle-minded society. Maybe this is why the Korean Economic Research Institute said in 2011 that the North would “have the edge” in the early days if a war should break out.
Nonetheless, and in spite of the North’s air defense artillery, it has a fairly weak air force compared to South Korea. Of its 940 aircraft, its strongest flying machines are somewhat out of date. It’s fleet partly consists of around 40 Mikoyan MiG-29 Fulcrums, 105 MiG-23 Floggers and 35 Sukhoi Su-25 Frogfoots. These planes may have been at the forefront of military aviation in the 70s and 80s, but technologically speaking, they pale in comparison to today’s military aircraft. According to the Pentagon, the majority of Pyongyang’s arsenal consists of only “vintage” machines.
The Republic of Korea Air Force is far more advanced. It consists of around 1,500 aircraft, much of which is uber-modern compared to its foe. While it’s still awaiting an order of 40 F-35 Lightning IIs, possibly the world’s most advanced jet fighter designed in the US, it also has a number of F-16C/Ds Fighting Falcons, F-15K Strike Eagles and FA-50s. Even North Korea’s respected anti-aircraft missiles would be hard-pushed to defend the country against such aerial might.
In terms of naval power, North Korea has again been accused of being completely out of its depth in terms of technology, with most of its fleet being built in the 50s and 60s. While it has a large number of vessels, they would not be a viable threat if conflict should occur. In total, it has 0 Aircraft carriers, 4 frigates, 0 destroyers, 6 corvettes, 78 submarines, 528 coastal defense crafts, and 23 mine warfares.
South Korea, by contrast, has a modern navy, with its own shipbuilding industry said to be “at the forefront of maritime design.” In total, it has 1 aircraft carrier, 12 frigates, 12 destroyers, 16 corvettes, 15 submarines, 70 coastal defense craft, and 11 mine warfares. When it comes to North vs. South in the sea, the general conclusion is we should look at quality, not quantity, with most critics stating the technology of both sides is hardly even comparable.
A war must also be fueled, and here both North Korea and South Korea lack the oil for any kind of protracted conflict. The north produces around 100 barrels of oil per day, and consumes around 15,000 barrels a day. It has no oil reserves. The south produces around 500 barrels a day, consumes 2,325,000 barrels daily, and also has no proven oil reserves.
It’s debatable if any country would come to the aid of North Korea if a war should breakout with South Korea. The south on the other hand has the advantage of the US as an ally, with 30,000 US troops already stationed in South Korea. It’s thought that while North Korea’s land advantage might get them off to a good start, it would only be a matter of time until the south and its allies took out anti-aircraft missile sites, command and control centers, its land artillery, and finally the country’s infrastructure. If the north decided to use its nuclear arsenal, there are two things that could happen: either its population would be decimated by US nuclear missiles, or its nuclear weapons would be captured in a land invasion. Given the vast and deadly consequences of the former, it’s likely the latter would be the best option.
Ultimately, North Korea, even with its huge number of personnel and some say exaggerated weapons programs, would be no match for South Korea and its main ally, the USA. Such a conflict would be devastating, however, and it’s one the world does not want to see. If you like these military comparisons, be sure to watch our video, North Korea vs the United States.
So, who do you think would have the upper hand in a hypothetical war between North Korea and South Korea? Let us know in the comments! T