It is a mistake to imagine that any potential war with North Korea will be like a gentlemanly game of chess, in which each side takes turns and the understandings for offence and defence are robust. This misperception is particularly evident in two areas.
First, it is assumed that the missile defences currently bristling around South Korea and Japan will protect them from short, medium and long-range intercontinental missiles sent from North Korea. The hopes in this area are pinned on remarkable achievements of these systems tracking and destroying missiles.
The well-touted examples in this area include the Aegis and Terminal High Altitude Defence (THAAD) systems against medium-range missiles, which have successful interception rates of 83 percent and 100 percent, respectively. The short-range missile defence systems, such as the Patriot, also appears to have improved greatly in recent times.
Although these figures sound impressive, they are spoiled by a number of considerations. First, although the success rate for hitting short and medium-range missiles appears good, the success rate for destroying intercontinental missiles is only just about 50 percent.
Second, most of the testing is conducted in near perfect conditions, in which one target is carefully tracked and destroyed. Third, the scale of the deployment is small. That is, with the American Ground-based Midcourse Defence system against intercontinental missiles, only 44 interceptors have been deployed. With the THAAD, only one battery (with 48 interceptor missiles) has been deployed in South Korea, although this has been supplemented with 16 batteries of Patriot missiles (each with 16 launchers).