London: The world needs to "prepare ourselves for the worst", a recently-retired South Korean general has warned, despite hopes that tensions between North and South Korea could thaw following recent talks.
Lieutenant-General I.B. Chun told the Westminster-based think tank Policy Exchange that, while his heart hoped the talks would lead to peace, every indication was that "we have a long way to go".
In landmark 11-hour peace talks this week, North and South Korea agreed that the North would send a team to compete in next month's Winter Olympics in PyeongChang
But North Korea said it would not discuss its nuclear weapons because they were aimed only at the United States and not its "brethren" in South Korea, or Russia or China, showing that a diplomatic breakthrough to the global crisis remained far off.
Chun is also a former national security adviser to South Korea's President Moon Jae-in when he was running for office. He first gained prominence in 1983 when as a young lieutenant he was credited with saving the life of a senior general during a terrorist bombing in Burma. Later, he became one of the most senior contact points for US military commanders in South Korea.
When asked by Fairfax Media if the first talks in two years signalled any material change, Chun said his 39 years of military experience had taught him that South Korea needed to be ready because often the only proven pathway to peace is war.
"You must seek peace but at the same time prepare ourselves for the worst," he said.
But he said he was confident that, despite North Korea's nuclear and chemical weapons and cyber warfare capabilities, the United States would prevail.
"There is no doubt in any South Korean's mind that if there's war that the alliance will win and it's just the fact that the sheer air power that the Korean and the United States - with British aircraft - that will hopefully come to our aid, can inflict on the North Koreans," he said.
"It's North Korea against the world at the moment."
He said US President Donald Trump's confrontational tweets, in which he has threatened military action against North Korea, had spooked the country's leader Kim Jong-un.
"Right now they're a little off balance because of Mr Trump, so because of Mr Trump they're trying to figure out is he really crazy? Is he really going to do this or not? Mr Trump has put them off balance," he said.
"My greatest fear is that the North Koreans are believing their own propaganda."
But he said Kim's provocations, including repeated missile tests, had "awoken the average American" and given "all justification to get his arse kicked".
Kim Jong-un 'like Hitler'
Chan said Kim views himself as akin to the Swedish royal family and is not crazy but is similar in temperament to Adolf Hitler.
He said the Kim dynasty had created such a cult in North Korea, where citizens are indoctrinated, that ridding the country of the family would be less like deposing the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and more like trying to remove Allah in Muslim countries.
"Can you imagine what that would look like? Trying to get rid of Allah in Afghanistan or Iraq?"
Australia, Britain and the US have all named North Korea as the culprit behind the global WannaCry cyber attack that crippled the British health system and infected 300,000 computers across the world.
Chan said Pyongyang's ability to hack systems worldwide should not be underestimated.
"North Korean cyber capability is right below nuclear capability in terms of threat."
China prefers nuclear North to US in Asia
North Korea ramped up missile launches last year and conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test, prompting a US-led campaign to impose some of the strongest international sanctions yet, which Pyongyang dubbed an "act of war".
The international community, including Australia, has called on China to do more to contain North Korea.
But Chan said Beijing had calculated that it would prefer a nuclear-armed North Korean neighbour than an increased US presence in its neighbourhood.
Conservative MP and chairman of the British Parliament's influential foreign affairs committee, Tom Tugendhat???, said Britain, Australia and the rest of the Commonwealth had a great stake in the Korean peninsula, although he cautioned against any direct British role in "tipping the balance".
Tugendhat singled out Australia's high commissioner to Britain, Alexander Downer who attended the speech.
"It's very good to see you here representing the great Commonwealth," Tugendhat told Downer.
"We have this enormous shared trade culture but we actually have a lot more than that too that's less noticed," he said, adding that Australia and Britain were major investors in South Korean enterprises.
But he said this was a secondary priority compared with Britain and Australia's interests in upholding the international rules-based order.