Seoul, South Korea — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has stressed that his country will never give up the nuclear weapons it needs to counter the United States, which he has accused of pushing to weaken the North’s defenses and possibly bring down its government, state media said on Friday.
Kim made the comments during a speech to North Korea’s parliament on Thursday, where members passed legislation governing the use of nuclear weapons, which Kim described as a step to cement the country’s nuclear status and clarify that these weapons will not be negotiated.
The office of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said it was “deeply concerned” about the new law and noted that the North’s pursuit of a nuclear weapons program “continues to disregard the Security Council resolutions to cease such activities”.
“The Secretary-General reiterates his call for the DPRK to resume dialogue with key parties with a view to achieving lasting peace and the complete and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” Guterres’ office said in a statement. a statement, using an acronym for North’s official name.
The new law sets out conditions under which the North would be inclined to use its nuclear weapons, including when it determines that its leaders face an “imminent nuclear or non-nuclear attack by hostile forces.” The law requires the North Korean military to “automatically” execute nuclear strikes against enemy forces, including their “starting point of provocation and command”, if Pyongyang’s leaders are attacked.
The law also states that North Korea could use nuclear weapons to prevent an unspecified “catastrophic crisis” for its government and people, a vague definition that experts say reflects an escalating nuclear doctrine that could create more great concern for the neighbors.
Kim also criticized South Korea for its plans to expand its conventional strike capabilities and restart large-scale military exercises with the United States to counter growing threats from the North, describing them as a “dangerous” military action. which increases tension.
Kim has issued increasingly provocative threats of nuclear conflict to the United States and its allies in Asia, also warning that the North will proactively use its nuclear weapons if threatened. His latest comments underscored growing animosity in the region as he accelerates the expansion of his nuclear weapons and missile program.
“The goal of the United States is not only to suppress our nuclear power itself, but ultimately to force us to give up or weaken our rights of self-defense by giving up our nuclear weapons, so that they can do s ‘collapse our government at any time,’ Kim said. said in the speech published by the official North Korean Central News Agency.
“Whether they punish us for 100 days, 1,000 days, 10 years or 100 years,” Kim said. “We will never give up our self-defense rights that preserve the existence of our country and the security of our people just to temporarily alleviate the hardships we are currently experiencing.”
Kim also addressed domestic issues, saying North Korea would begin its long-delayed rollout of COVID-19 vaccines in November. He did not say how many doses he would have, where they would come from or how they would be administered to his population of 26 million.
GAVI, the nonprofit that runs the UN-backed COVAX distribution program, said in June it understood North Korea had accepted an offer of vaccines from China. GAVI said at the time that the details of the offer were unclear.
North Korea rejected previous offers from COVAX, likely due to international monitoring requirements, and also ignored U.S. and South Korean offers of vaccines and other COVID-19 aid.
Last month, Kim declared victory over COVID-19 and ordered the relaxation of preventive measures just three months after his government first acknowledged an outbreak. Experts believe the North’s revelations about its outbreak are being manipulated to help keep Kim in absolute control.
The North Korean report on Kim’s speech came a day after South Korea extended its last olive branch, proposing a reunion with North Korea to resume temporary reunions of aging parents separated by the war in Korea from 1950-1953, which last took place in 2018.
Experts say it is highly unlikely that North Korea will accept the South’s offer given the sharp deterioration in inter-Korean relations amid the deadlock in broader nuclear talks between Washington and Pyongyang. US-North Korea diplomacy was derailed in 2019 over disagreements over the exchange of the release of crippling sanctions against the North and measures to denuclearize the North.
Kim was combative towards South Korea in his speech on Thursday and urged his country to expand the operational roles of its tactical nuclear weapons and accelerate their deployment to bolster the country’s war deterrent. The comments appeared to align with a ruling party decision in June to approve new, unspecified operational tasks for frontline troops, which analysts say likely include plans to deploy nuclear weapons on the spot. of battle targeting rival South Korea along their tense border.
Cheong Seong Chang, a senior analyst at South Korea’s Sejong Institute, said Kim’s comments and North Korea’s new law amounted to a warning that he would launch immediate nuclear strikes on the United States and Korea. of the South if they ever tried to decapitate the leaders of Pyongyang.
The North is also communicating a threat that it could use its nuclear weapons in conflicts with South Korean conventional forces, increasing the risk of accidental clashes escalating into a nuclear crisis, Cheong said.
North Korea has been accelerating its development of nuclear-capable short-range missiles that can target South Korea since 2019. Experts say its rhetoric around such missiles communicates a threat to use them proactively in warfare to blunt stronger conventional forces from South Korea and the United States. About 28,500 American troops are stationed in the South to deter northern aggression.
US-led diplomatic efforts to defuse the nuclear stalemate have been further complicated by escalating US-China rivalry and Russia’s war on Ukraine, which have deepened the rift in the Security Council. UN security, where Beijing and Moscow have blocked US efforts to tighten sanctions on Pyongyang over its long-range missile tests relaunched this year.
Kim ramped up weapons testing at a record pace in 2020, launching more than 30 ballistic weapons, including the first demonstrations of its intercontinental ballistic missiles since 2017.
US and South Korean officials say Kim could soon up the ante by ordering the North’s first nuclear test in five years as he pushes a scheme to force Washington to accept the idea of the North as a nuclear power and negotiate concessions from a position of strength.
Experts say Kim is also trying to bolster his influence by stepping up cooperation with China and Russia in an emerging partnership aimed at undermining American influence.
North Korea has repeatedly blamed the United States for the Ukraine crisis, saying the West’s “hegemonic policy” justifies Russian military actions in Ukraine to protect itself. US officials said this week that the Russians were buying North Korean ammunition, including artillery shells and rockets, to ease their supply shortages in the war against Ukraine.
North Korea also joined Russia and Syria as the only nations to recognize the independence of two pro-Russian breakaway territories in eastern Ukraine and considered sending its construction workers to those areas. to work on reconstruction.