North Korea: Neighbours on alert

Following the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, regional powers have voiced fears over the nuclear country's future course.

Mr Kim had carried out his father's policy of "military first", building the world's fifth largest military force.

And in recent years, North Korea's series of ballistic missile tests and efforts to build nuclear weapons have fuelled regional tension. The country is reported to have test-fired a short-range missile shortly before Monday's announcement of Mr Kim's death.

North Korea is believed to be in possession of a number of missiles with varying ranges. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, some have the capability to carry nuclear warheads.

Graphic showing North Korea missile ranges

After the announcement of Mr Kim's death, South Korea placed its military on alert.

Relations between the two Koreas remain fraught following an exchange of artillery fire in November 2010 across the disputed western maritime border. It came just months after the sinking of a South Korean warship, the Cheonan, which killed 46 sailors.

North and South Korea are, technically, still in a state of war. The two countries never signed a peace treaty after an armistice ended their 1950-53 conflict.

They are separated by one of the world's most heavily fortified borders and both have strong military capabilities.

Map of North and South Korea

Elsewhere in the region, governments have also been watching developments closely.

China, North Korea's closest ally and its biggest trading partner, held phone talks with the US and South Korea on the importance of ensuring security on the Korean peninsula.

Meanwhile, the US has called on North Korea to pursue a "path of peace" and has promised to defend regional allies.

It maintains a military presence in South Korea, adding to the capabilities of other key countries in the region.

The regional military balance

Country Military budget Personnel Key equipment

Source: Military Balance 2010, International Institute for Strategic Studies. *globalsecurity.org 2002 estimate

Flag icon Dollar icon Soldier icon Military icons

N Korea

$5bn*

1,106,000, plus 4,700,000 reservists and 189,000 paramilitary

3,500+ tanks

388 fighter aircraft

63 submarines

64+ missiles

S Korea

$24.5bn

687,000, plus 4,500,000 reservists

2,750 tanks

467 fighter aircraft

13 submarines

12 missiles

China

$70.3bn

2,285,000, plus 510,000 reservists and 660,000 paramilitary

6,550+ tanks

1,184+ fighter aircraft

65 submarines

Thousands of missiles

Japan

$52bn

230,300, plus 41,800 reservists and 12,250 paramilitary

880 tanks

250 fighter aircraft

16 submarines

100+ missiles

Russia

$41.05bn

1,027,000 plus 20,000,000 reservists

23,000+ tanks

1,200+ fighter aircraft

107 submarines

Thousands of missiles

US

$693.2bn

1,580,255, plus 864,547 reservists

9,000+ tanks

3,000+ fighter aircraft

71+ submarines

Thousands of missiles

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