North Korea has officially enshrined the right to use pre-emptive nuclear strikes to protect itself in a new law.
- The new law makes North Korea’s nuclear status “irreversible” and precludes denuclearization talks
- It also allows for pre-emptive nuclear strikes if, among other things, there is an imminent attack against its leadership
- Analysts say the aim is to win international acceptance of the country’s status as a “responsible nuclear state”
The country’s leader Kim Jong Un said the legislation also made its nuclear status “irreversible” and precludes denuclearization talks, state media reported Friday.
The move comes as observers say North Korea appears poised to resume nuclear tests for the first time since 2017, after historic summits with former US President Donald Trump and other world leaders in 2018 failed to persuade Kim to stop weapons development.
The Nordic parliament – the upper house of the people – passed the legislation on Thursday, according to state news agency KCNA.
The new legislation replaces a 2013 law that first outlined the country’s nuclear status.
“The greatest significance of legislating nuclear weapons policy is to draw an irrevocable line so that our nuclear weapons cannot be negotiated,” Kim Jong Un said in a speech to the assembly.
He went on to add that he would never surrender the weapons even if the country faced 100 years of sanctions.
Among the scenarios that could trigger a nuclear attack would be the threat of an imminent nuclear attack; if the country’s leadership, people or existence were threatened; or to gain the upper hand during a war, among other reasons.
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.
“It may simply be a product of North Korea’s position, how much it values nuclear weapons and how important it sees them to its survival.”
The original 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.
“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.
Like the previous law, the new version promises not to threaten non-nuclear states with nuclear weapons unless they join a nuclear-armed country in attacking the North.
However, the new law adds that it can launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike if it detects an imminent attack of any kind targeting North Korea’s leadership and the command organization of its nuclear forces.
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.
According to the law, Mr Kim has “all decisive authority” over nuclear weapons, but if the command and control system is threatened, nuclear weapons can be launched “automatically”.
If Mr. Kim delegates launch authority to lower commanders during a crisis, it could increase the chances of a catastrophic miscalculation, analysts said.
‘Responsible nuclear state’
The law 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 Mr Kim’s aim is to win international acceptance of North Korea’s status as a “responsible nuclear state”.
US President Joe Biden’s administration has offered to speak with Mr Kim anytime, anywhere, and Mr Yoon has said his country would provide huge 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 Mr 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.
“As long as nuclear weapons remain on earth and imperialism remains, and the maneuvers of the United States and its supporters against our republic are not finished, our work to strengthen nuclear power will not cease,” Kim said.