South Korea says North Korea is enhancing its military strength by deploying a new missile and increasing its number of light and mobile elite forces. As analysts warn of an imminent missile test by the North, officials in Seoul say Pyongyang's military remains a "serious threat."
Senior South Korean Defense Ministry official Shin Won-sik told reporters Monday North Korea has learned lessons from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He says North Korea has boosted its special forces personnel by 50 percent since 2006, to 180,000 soldiers. He says, in a possible conflict, those troops would focus on infiltrating South Korea quickly, to strike at U.S. and South Korean forces from behind.
The United States deploys about 28,000 military personnel here in South Korea to deter or defeat any repeat attempt of the North's 1950 invasion of the South.
Shin, who was presenting highlights of an annual South Korean defense white paper, says the point of Pyongyang's decision to boost special forces is confusion.
He says North Korea seems to want to blur the line between friend and foe in a conflict scenario. He says, by spreading confusion, the North may believe it can compensate for its lack of advanced weaponry and other resources.
The South Korean white paper says the North is also deploying a new kind of medium-range missile. North Korea already has an extensive arsenal of medium-range missiles that can reach all of South Korea and most of Japan.
South Korea has been on high alert for several weeks, amid signs of a possibly imminent North Korean test of a long-range missile which could reach as far at the United States. A senior North Korean missile specialist with "Jane's Defense Weekly" warns the launch could be ready within days, by the looks of satellite imagery.
North Korea is issuing more of what has become an almost daily stream of confrontational rhetoric. Pyongyang's official "Rodong Sinmun" newspaper Monday called conservative South Korean President Lee Myung-bak a "fascist dictator." It accuses him of pushing inter-Korean relations "to the phase of total collapse," and driving the situation "to the brink of war."
Mr. Lee ended 10 years of uncritical South Korean handouts to the impoverished North, saying future aid would be dependent on the North's progress in getting rid of its nuclear weapons.
Former U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry spoke to South Korean leaders Monday in Seoul - calling for calm resolve in dealing with the North.
"It seems as if the longer we talk, the more hostile North Korea becomes. Nevertheless, I believe that we should continue to talk, but under no conditions should we show any signs of weakness under North Korean provocations," Perry said.
Perry, who served under President Bill Clinton, says dealing with North Korea is likely to be one of the first big challenges of President Barack Obama's presidency.