Amid continued tensions between China and Taiwan, last Friday, September 9th, a new stressor was introduced to the Eastern Asian region. North Korea announced that it had enshrined into law the use of its nuclear arsenal, should it feel threatened. The news has world leaders worried.
The newly minted law, disclosed on the 74th anniversary of the founding of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, now describes the communist country as a “responsible nuclear power” while stating that its possession of nuclear weapons is no longer negotiable.
Most worrying, the law allows for various scenarios in which nuclear armaments could be employed—such as in the event of a suspected imminent nuclear or WMD attack by an enemy—if the state, its nuclear command and control system, or its people are in danger, or to gain the upper hand in a war.
The strategy bears a resemblance to South Korea’s ‘Kill Chain’ strategy, which —at least theoretically—allows South Korea to launch preemptive strikes on North Korean missiles and even senior leadership (also known as a ‘decapitation’ strike, an old worry of Jong-un’s) if an attack appears imminent.
To counter that eventuality, the law contains a provision that allows for automated launches, so as to ensure both parties’ destruction.
According to North Korea’s KNCA news agency, the new law further serves as a “strong legal guarantee to establish North Korea’s position as a nuclear-weapon state” and to ensure the “transparent and coherent nature” of its nuclear weapons policy. The law also prohibits sharing either nuclear weapons or nuclear technology with other countries, and is intended to reduce the danger of nuclear war by “preventing miscalculations between nuclear-weapon states and misuse of nuclear weapons.”
Commenting on the matter, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said that his country’s status as a nuclear-armed state had now become “irreversible,” and that even if it were subjected to severe sanctions for one hundred years or more, he would not order the destruction of his nuclear arsenal. North Korea has been under sanctions for a dozen years in order to push it towards denuclearisation.
As the world is moving away from U.S. hegemony and towards multipolarity with the rise of China, India, and Russia, the law serves to illustrate that North Korea feels increasingly emboldened. Yet, given all variables at play, any misstep or misinterpretation could lead to nuclear conflict, with potentially wider repercussions.
According to his spokesman, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was “deeply concerned” by the recent development. He has called on Pyongyang to engage with diplomatic efforts to achieve the “complete and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” The White House meanwhile has expressed its willingness to conduct talks with the country, while reiterating it had no hostile intentions. According to the Japanese news agency Kyodo, it is currently working with Japan on arranging a New York summit on September 20th to discuss the various security issues facing East Asia, as North Korea is one among many.
Russia, which U.S. intelligence sources suspect of replenishing its arsenal through North Korea, said that it was “closely monitoring” any military activity on the Korean peninsula. Its state-owned RIA news agency quoted the Russian Foreign Ministry as saying that “recent moves” by the U.S. made North Korea turn to military means for ensuring its security, as it accused Washington of destabilising the peninsula.
Tristan Vanheuckelom writes on film, literature, and comics for various Dutch publications. He is an avid student of history, political theory, and religion, and is a News Writer at The European Conservative.