North Korea’s nuclear strike bet

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North Korea’s nuclear strike bet

During the Chuseok holiday, South Koreans were embarrassed at an abrupt announcement by North Korea. After adhering to nuclear development over the past 40 years by cheating the international community, North Korea defined itself as a nuclear power, vowed to not abandon nuclear weapons, and set a decree allowing the country to launch a nuclear attack on enemies. On Friday, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), the North’s mouthpiece, said the decree had been adopted by the Supreme People’s Assembly the previous day. The KCNA also introduced a speech by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in which he stressed that North Korea will not denuclearize nor compromise in any negotiation with the United States, as America aims to topple his regime.

The eleven-item decree entrusted Kim with an “absolute authority to order the use of nuclear weapons” and stipulated that North Korea would automatically launch a nuclear strike when its leadership faces danger. The decree made it clear that North Korea can use nuclear weapons under many circumstances such as when it has noticed an “imminent attack” from outside or when their use is unavoidable to “prevent a prolonged war” or when the country faces a “crisis for the survival of the country and people.”

Kim’s statement translates into a possible use of nuclear weapons even in times of an internal rebellion, not to mention a preemptive nuclear strike against enemies. Such a reckless nuclear threat is unprecedented. North Korea said it will not use nukes if non-nuclear states like South Korea do not join forces with other nuclear states to attack the North. Kim’s proclamation of non-compromise on its nuclear weapons and the irreversibility of its nuclear power status is nothing but a demonstration of his willingness to start only nuclear arms reduction talks with the U.S., not denuclearization talks.

North Korea has carried out four nuclear tests — and tens of ICBM launches — since Kim took power in 2012. With cover from China and Russia amid the U.S.-China contest and the Ukraine war, North Korea will most likely conduct its seventh nuclear test.

Fortunately, South Korea and the U.S. are to hold an Extended Deterrence Strategy and Consultation Group (EDSCG) meeting between the two countries’ vice-ministerial defense and diplomatic officials on Friday in Washington. But the nuclear crisis has escalated to a new level. Kim has resorted to a nuclear option in the face of the country’s worst-ever economic crisis originating with international sanctions, floods and the shutdown of its border for Covid-19. His move is aimed at drawing international attention again with a return to the negotiating table in mind.

South Korea and the U.S. must find a creative solution to the nuclear conundrum while sternly responding to North Korea’s military provocation. More importantly, Kim must understand that the more nukes he has, the more vulnerable his regime becomes.
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