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Tsutomu Nishioka

【#916】How to Counter North Korean Nuclear Intimidation: Part 2

Tsutomu Nishioka / 2022.05.12 (Thu)

May 9, 2022

In this column on April 4, I wrote that nuclear intimidation against non-nuclear South Korea by senior North Korean officials including Kim Yo Jong, a sister of top leader Kim Jong Un and effective No. 2 of the North Korean leadership, created an unignorable crisis also for Japan, another non-nuclear country, and that Japan should consider withdrawing from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Regrettably, my article attracted little attention. This may be because the intimidators were not the top leader and because the Moon Jae In government of South Korea subjected to the intimidation made little reaction.

Top leader threatening preemptive strikes

Possibly pleased with the absence of any harsh reaction to the earlier nuclear intimidation, top North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has threatened preemptive nuclear strikes on two recent occasions. One of them was his speech at a military parade held in celebration of the 90th anniversary of the Korean People's Revolutionary Army on April 25. He said:

“The fundamental mission of our nuclear forces is to deter a war, but our nukes can never be confined to the single mission of war deterrent even at a time when a situation we are not desirous of at all is created on this land. If any forces try to violate the fundamental interests of our state, our nuclear forces will have to decisively accomplish its unexpected second mission. The nuclear forces of our Republic should be fully prepared to fulfill their responsible mission and put their unique deterrent in motion at any time.”

On the other occasion at a meeting with commanding military officers who directed the military parade, Kim said that North Korean army would “preemptively and thoroughly contain and frustrate all dangerous attempts and threatening moves, including ever-escalating nuclear threats from hostile forces, if necessary.”

Kim and North Korean military leaders are shaken by Russian forces’ unexpectedly uphill battle in Ukraine and concerned that North Korean army armed with weapons from the former Soviet Union could be defeated by South Koreans equipped with advanced weapons, even if without U.S. forces, according to insider information. North Korean army is said to be remarkably weakened as self-sufficient military supply since the mid-1990s has almost come to a halt because economic sanctions and North Korea’s shutdown of its border with China to block the novel coronavirus outbreak have prevented North Korean army-controlled trading companies from doing business.

Resuming nuclear tests possibly in June

If South Korea’s new Yoon Suk Yeol government enhances military pressure, the North may fall apart. This is the reason North Korea has threatened preemptive nuclear strikes while conducting missile-launching tests repeatedly. A nuclear testing site, around the entrance of which had been bombed, is said to be almost restored, though belatedly, allowing North Korea to conduct nuclear explosion tests possibly in June. Kim who has no choice but to depend on nuclear intimidation is likely to embark on nuclear tests.

Kim’s nuclear weapons, like those of Russian President Vladimir Putin, are the last resort to use when the country is at the brink of defeat in a conventional war. Only nuclear deterrence can counter nuclear intimidation from North Korea. I would like to emphasize again that Japan should promptly consolidate its nuclear deterrence.

Tsutomu Nishioka is a senior fellow and a Planning Committee member at the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals and a visiting professor at Reitaku University. He covers South and North Koreas.