Defector: North Korea ready to fire on South as soon as US takes military action

A high-ranking defector warned Wednesday that North Koreans stationed near the border with South Korea have their fingers on the trigger ready to fire at Seoul should the United States take military action.

“North Korean officers are trained to press the button without any further instructions from the general command if something happens on their side,” Thae Yong Ho told the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “If there is any sound of fire or bomb or strike from Americans, the military artilleries and short-range missiles will fire against South Korea.”


Thae was North Korea’s deputy ambassador to the United Kingdom until 2016, when he defected to South Korea. He is the highest-ranking North Korean defector in two decades and is making his first visit to Washington, D.C., as President Trump prepares to depart on his first trip to Asia.

Tensions between Washington and Pyongyang have been heightened in recent months as North Korean leader Kim Jong UnKim Jong UnSister of North Korean leader dismisses prospects for talks with US Sullivan: Comments by North Korea's Kim an 'interesting signal' Kim says North Korea needs to be 'prepared' for 'confrontation' with US MORE progresses in his nuclear and missile program, with Trump threatening “fire and fury” if the country continues.

The rhetoric has led some to fear Trump is considering pre-emptive military action.

U.S. officials have stressed that the United States would prefer a diplomatic solution as any military actions could have devastating consequences on South Korea. But they have not taken military options off the table.

Seoul is about 35 miles away from the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating North Korea and South Korea.

Just outside the DMZ, North Korea has lined its border with tens of thousands of artillery and short-range missiles that could hit Seoul.

Referencing those weapons, Thae said Wednesday that while the U.S. and South Korea could surely defeat North Korea in a war, it would be devastating.

“If there is any preventive or surgical strike or whatever, I think the war will be won by America and South Korea; there is no doubt about it,” he said. “But we have to see the human sacrifice from this military option.”

Thae recommended using all available nonmilitary options, particularly information campaigns.

“If we are determined to use and expand our soft power, I can think one day we can reach the same goal we achieved with former Soviet Union and those former East European socialist countries,” he said.

Still, if U.S. officials were to meet with Kim as he has recommended, Thae said the United States should make clear it is ready to use military options. 

“We should tell Kim Jong Un that America is ready to use all military options if Kim Jong Un continues this process,” Thae said. “And we should tell Kim Jong Un that if Kim Jong Un stops this process and gives up his ambition of [intercontinental ballistic missiles] and nuclear development, American is ready to help Kim Jong Un build its economy and make North Korea a prosperous country.”