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all eyes on north korea

North Korea's chemical weapons are its terrifying plan B in case of a U.S. attack

It could be "difficult if not impossible" to protect Seoul from a North Korean chemical weapon attack, even if the United States were to do a surprise first strike, the director of non-proliferation policy for the Arms Control Association, Kelsey Davenport, told McClatchy. "Nuclear weapons are not the only threat," Davenport warned. "North Korea could respond to a U.S. attack using chemical weapons. That would be devastating."

While North Korea's nuclear weapons capabilities have kept American media buzzing, the nation is also known to have a stockpile of dangerous nerve agents like sarin, which was recently thought to have been used in a horrific attack in Syria, and VX, which was used in the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's half-brother, Kim Jong Nam, in February.

"Compared to the nuclear threat, which involves a finite number of warheads and delivery systems vulnerable to air defenses and antimissile systems, the chemical threat is not as easily negated," wrote military analyst Reid Kirby in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. McClatchy adds: "North Korea's artillery guns are thought to be preloaded with chemical weapons, allowing them to be deployed instantly. Hundreds of these guns are within range of Seoul, or at least parts of the city, many of them buried in mountainsides."

Approximately 23 million people live in Seoul. South Korea is also home to some 150,000 U.S. citizens and 29,000 U.S. troops, making it an obvious target for retaliation in a case where America strikes first. Read more about what is being done in South Korea to prepare people in case of a chemical attack at McClatchy and Matthew Walther's case against a "grossly immoral and recklessly stupid" preemptive strike here at The Week.