North Korea has passed a law establishing the right to “automatically” use pre-emptive nuclear strikes to protect itself, a move leader Kim Jong-un said makes its nuclear status “irreversible” and rules out any denuclearization talks, state media have reported.
The move comes as observers say North Korea appears poised to resume nuclear tests for the first time since 2017, after historic summits with then-US President Donald Trump and other world leaders in 2018 failed to persuade Kim to give up its weapons development.
The North’s rubber-stamp parliament, the upper house of the people, passed the legislation on Thursday as a replacement for a 2013 law that first outlined the country’s nuclear status, state news agency KCNA reported on Friday.
“The greatest significance of enacting nuclear weapons policy is to draw an irrevocable line so that our nuclear weapons cannot be negotiated,” Kim told the assembly, adding that he would never surrender the weapons even if the country faced 100 years of sanctions .
A deputy at the assembly said the law would serve as a strong legal guarantee to consolidate North Korea’s position as a nuclear weapons state and ensure the “transparent, consistent and standard nature” of its nuclear policy, KCNA reported.
The 2013 law stipulated that North Korea could use nuclear weapons to repel invasion or attack by a hostile nuclear state and make retaliatory strikes.
The new law goes beyond that to allow preemptive nuclear strikes if an imminent attack with weapons of mass destruction or against the country’s “strategic targets,” including its leadership, is detected.
It is an apparent reference to South Korea’s “kill chain” strategy, which calls for pre-emptive strikes on North Korea’s nuclear infrastructure and command system if an imminent attack is suspected.
Kim cited the kill chain, which is part of a three-pronged military strategy being strengthened under new South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, as a sign that the situation is worsening and that Pyongyang must prepare for long-term tensions.
“In a nutshell, there are some really vague and ambiguous circumstances where North Korea is now saying it might use its nukes,” Chad O’Carroll, founder of North Korea tracking website NK News, said on Twitter.
“I imagine the purpose is to give American and South Korean military planners pause for thought about a much broader range of actions than before.”
The law also prohibits any sharing of nuclear weapons or technology with other countries and aims to reduce the danger of a nuclear war by preventing miscalculations among nuclear-weapon states and the misuse of nuclear weapons, KCNA reported.
Analysts say Kim’s goal is to win international acceptance of North Korea’s status as a “responsible nuclear state.”
Joe Biden’s administration has offered to talk to Kim anytime, anywhere, and South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol has said his country would provide massive amounts of economic aid if Pyongyang began giving up its arsenal.
South Korea offered on Thursday to hold talks with North Korea on reunifications of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War, in its first direct overture under Yoon, despite strained cross-border ties.
However, North Korea has rejected those indications, saying the US and its allies maintain “hostile policies” such as sanctions and military exercises that undermine their messages of peace.
Kim’s comments underscored rising regional tensions as he accelerates the expansion of his nuclear weapons and missile program. He has issued increasingly provocative threats of nuclear conflict against the United States and its allies in Asia in recent months, and he has also warned that the North will proactively use its nuclear weapons when threatened.
Kim has encouraged weapons tests at a record pace this year, launching more than 30 ballistic weapons, including the first demonstrations of his intercontinental ballistic missiles since 2017.