Expatriates evacuation planning in North KoreaHow a War with North Korea Could Affect Business, Employee and Travel Security Operations in Northeast Asia

Since it was sanctioned by the United Nations for carrying out a nuclear test, North Korea has made an alarming series of threats, upsetting the regional stability in Northeast Asia. It has announced plans to attack American and South Korea military targets, ended a half-century long armistice with Seoul, and even threatened to attack the United States with nuclear weapons. It has followed up these threats with a series of military demonstrations, and may be conducting preparations for another missile test. To add extra weight to these provocations, Pyongyang has even suggested that Foreign Diplomats living in the country’s capital should prepare an evacuation plan in the event of a war.

As a top security consulting firm on foreign security including Korean security, Incident Management Group is receiving a number of inquiries on the escalating tensions. Many corporations in South Korea are worried by North Korean saber rattling to the extent that they are updating their crisis management and evacuation plans as well as their employee security in Korea plans.

To be sure, this is not the first time that North Korea has issued belligerent statements. The country periodically throws these types of geopolitical tantrums in order to extract concessions from the international community. Indeed, the common view held among North Korea watchers is that the recent provocations are part of Kim Jung-Um’s internal political strategy. Experts believe that Pyongyang’s young dictator is trying to shore up support within a ruling oligarchy that has yet to fully embrace his rule.

However, North Korea’s actions and statements over the past month have been far more provocative than usual. The US military and its allies in the region have started to take Pyongyang’s threats seriously. Although war is unlikely, it is possible. If a conflict breaks out there could be many ramifications for regional stability. The effects of such a conflict will be felt by more than just the military. Corporations and firms with business interests in Northeast Asia could be at risk, as the North’s actions have the potential to affect travel security.

However, this should not be cause for panic. Security and travel departments simply need to remain vigilant and continue to monitor the situation in Korea. They also should start making some preliminary plans that cover some of the broader effects of a war. Below are 5 potential consequences that corporations could face should a war break out in Northeast Asia.

Consequence 1: Seoul Under Attack

Seoul, the capital of South Korea, is a massive metropolis. This modern city is home to 25 million people and is a center of regional trade. Companies such as KIA, Hyundai, Hitachi, and LG Electronics have headquarters in the city. In fact, a study done at the University of Toronto ranked Seoul as the world’s 11th most economically important city.

Despite its success, Seoul is precariously positioned near the North Korean border. Some sections of the city are within artillery range of North Korean gunners. On several occasions Pyongyang has vowed that, in the event of war, it would turn Seoul into a “sea of fire.” Due to the risks posed by geography, corporations with employees or facilities in Seoul have a great deal at risk if conflict between the two Korea’s breaks out.

Consequence 2: Military Mobilization

The second consequence of a Korean war would be a massive military mobilization across the Pacific Rim. It goes without saying that South Korea itself would mobilize. However, given that the country has compulsive military service, and that most Korean males have some military experience, this mobilization would be broader in scope than any other mobilization in recent history.

In addition to Korea, the United States would also mobilize. Military supplies would be routed through ports on the American west coast. As was done during the first Korean War, installations in Japan and other locations across the Pacific could become waypoints for men and material headed towards the Korean peninsula. Obviously, this influx of resources could have a significant impact on the logistical capabilities in these areas.

Consequence 3: Air Travel

Korea has a well-developed air infrastructure, and many travelers across Asia connect through one of Korea’s modern airports. Indeed, over 80 million air passengers traveled through Korea in 2012. However, a war with the North could quickly devastate the security of passenger air travel. One reason is that many of Korea’s largest airports lie close to the border with North Korea. As such, they are high risk of being damaged. Another threat to air travel comes from the actual combat operations themselves. Air combat over the peninsula could threaten the safety of passenger planes and some airlines may simply choose to ground their fleets.

Consequence 4: Exodus of Refugees

As tens of thousands of soldiers make their way to a war zone, an even greater number of refugees would flee the conflict. As already stated, Seoul’s population is massive and many civilians would flee towards Pusan. Some may attempt to leave the peninsula all together by crossing over to Japan. In contrast, refugees from North Korea would flee in the other direction, towards the eastern coast of Russia or Northeast China.

An Exodus of refugees could put and additional pressure on the airports, seaports, and logistical infrastructure. This is on top of the strain put on these facilities by a full-scale military mobilization. If such a logistical meltdown were to occur, corporations would be well advised to seek alternate supply routes and make appropriate preparations for logistical disruptions.

Consequence 5: Business in China

China proved to be North Korea’s saving grace during the first Korean War, providing more than three million volunteers to the conflict. Since that time, China has developed strong economic ties and cordial relationships with the West. They also seem to becoming increasingly annoyed at the actions of their North Korean ally. However, there are still some in China’s leadership who are loyal to Pyongyang. As such, there are many who believe that war on the Korean peninsula may put severe strain on the relationship between China and the West. Deterioration of this critical relationship could bring about difficulties for Western companies with employees and facilities in China. The type and degree of difficulties corporations could face are hard to determine. However, companies should be aware that the attitude of the Chinese people and government could become extremely sensitive in such a conflict.

Although a war on the Korean peninsula is unlikely, it is still possible. As such, corporations with business interests in the region should continue to watch the geo-political situation in Northeast Asia. With current tensions as high as they are, a small spark could significantly inflame the situation, compromising regional stability and posing risks to corporations and individuals.