North Korea has several thousand tonnes of chemical weapons it can mount on missiles that could be used on a rapid strike against the South, said a report released on Thursday by the International Crisis Group (ICG), Reuters reported.
North Korea in recent weeks has raised tensions in North Asia, responsible for one-sixth of the global economy, with missile launches, threats to attack the South and a May 25 nuclear test that led to U.N. sanctions. The report from the prestigious non-governmental organisation said the consensus view is the North's army possess about 2,500-5,000 tonnes of chemical weapons that include mustard gas, sarin and other deadly nerve agents.
"If there is an escalation of conflict and if military hostilities break out, there is a risk that they could be used. In conventional terms, North Korea is weak and they feel they might have to resort to using those," said Daniel Pinkston, the ICG's representative on Seoul.
The North has been working on chemical weapons for decades and can deliver them through long-range artillery trained on the Seoul area -- home to about half of South Korea's 49 million people -- and via missiles that could hit all of the country. "The stockpile does not appear to be increasing but is already sufficient to inflict massive civilian casualties on South Korea," the ICG report said.
The report said North Korea has also worked on a biological weapons programme but Pinkston does not think Pyongyang has fully developed that weapons programme. In a separate report released simultaneously, the ICG said North Korea has deployed more than 600 Scud-type missiles that can hit all of South Korea and as many as 320 Rodong missiles that can strike Japan.
The ICG said earlier this year intelligence it acquired indicates the North has developed a nuclear warhead it could mount on an Rodong missile, and this latest report repeats the claim. Many weapons experts believe the North is years away from being able to miniaturise a nuclear weapon to mount on a warhead and requires several more nuclear tests to develop one.
The ICG said the North's nuclear threat is the region's most urgent security issue but if progress is made on rolling back Pyongyang's atomic ambitions, there could be a way to find a solution to the threats posed by chemical and biological weapons.