April 6, 2022
North Korea warned that it will inevitably use nuclear weapons to “annihilate” South Korean forces if South Korea chooses a military confrontation and launches a preemptive attack.
Kim Yo-jong, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s powerful sister, issued another but detailed press statement on Tuesday to censure South Korean Defense Minister Suh Wook’s remarks at an event marking the reinforcement of the Army Missile Strategic Command.
Suh said the South Korean military “has capabilities and maintains the readiness to accurately and swiftly strike the origin of a launch and command and support facilities if the signs of a missile launch are clear.”
Offensive nuclear strategy
Kim Yo-jong, vice director of the Propaganda and Agitation Department of the Party Central Committee, lambasted the South Korean defense chief for making an “irretrievable, very huge mistake by referring to a preemptive strike” and calling North Korea an “enemy.”
“If South Korea chooses a military confrontation with us, our nuclear combat force will inevitably have to carry out its duties,” Kim said in the Korean-language statement carried on the second page of the Rodong Sinmun, an organ of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea.
“The primary mission of the nuclear force is not to be involved in such war, but in case of war, its mission will change into eliminating the opposition side’s armed forces at a single stroke.”
Kim elucidated that Pyongyang would mobilize the “nuclear combat force to seize the initiative at the outset of the war, completely dampen the enemy’s war spirits, prevent protracted war, and preserve its own military power.”
If the situation reaches a state of crisis, Kim said North Korea will “launch a terrifying attack, and therefore the South Korean military will have to be resigned to its dismal fate that is close to annihilation and complete destruction.”
“This is not just a threat,” Kim Yo-jong said, urging South Korea to focus on coming up with ways to defend itself against North Korea’s attacks to avoid such a “terrible end.”
Park Won-gon, professor of North Korea studies at Ewha Womans University, took note that her press statement clarified Pyongyang’s “nuclear strategy” by stating that North Korea will use its nuclear weapons at the beginning of the war.
“This is an extremely dangerous, offensive nuclear strategy,” Park told The Korea Herald, explaining that questions had remained among pundits on whether North Korea would use nuclear weapons at the start of the war or as a last resort.
“A war starts as a skirmish and expands into an all-out war. North Korea says they could use nuclear weapons even in case of small-scale military conflict.”
South Korea is no match for North Korea
Kim Yo-jong on Tuesday underscored that her statement expounded on North Korea’s expected response to South Korea’s “reckless military action” and the consequences that South Korea will face. She also said that “South Korea should refrain from delusion about the military (action) against a nuclear weapons state.”
At the same time, Kim reiterated North Korea’s stance that “South Korea is not the main enemy,” explaining that the “South Korean military will not become a target of its attack unless it takes any military action against the country.”
“We make it clear once again. We will not even fire even a single bullet or shell toward South Korea,” Kim said. “We do not consider (South Korea) as a match for our armed forces.”
Professor Park pointed out that the statement technically echoed North Korea’s previous argument that the country has developed new weapons systems to defend and protect the country and to deter war, intending to legitimize the recent spate of weapons tests.
In particular, North Korea once again underscored its claim that South Korea should withdraw “double standards” over its military buildup and weapons development.
“The country’s call to withdraw double standards equates with its demand to recognize it as a nuclear weapons state,” Park said.
Analysts agreed that North Korea sought to reemphasize its status as a nuclear-armed state through the statement, which was issued in response to the South Korean defense chief’s calls for enhanced military capabilities and deterrent measures against North Korea’s missile and nuclear threats.
In a nutshell, the North Korean leader’s influential sister sent a clear message that South Korea should not meddle in North Korea’s nuclear weapons development. The message came especially at a critical juncture when President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol is set to be sworn in on May 10.
Kim In-tae, a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Strategy, said Kim Yo-jong emphasized that “South Korea is no match for North Korea, a nuclear weapons state.”
Echoing the view, Cho Han-bum, a senior research fellow at the Korean Institute for National Unification, said North Korea reinstated that it cannot “tolerate the South Korean government’s counteraction or its act of making an issue of the country’s strategy to enhance missile and nuclear capabilities” against the US, with the goal of gaining the upper hand in their tug of war.
“North Korea has said its main enemy is the US,” Cho told The Korea Herald. “The core message is that South Korea should not interfere in the country’s acts of launching an intercontinental ballistic missile and developing nuclear capabilities, which target the US.”
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in March underscored that Pyongyang would develop defense capabilities to “thoroughly prepare for the long-term confrontation with US imperialists,” while watching what the country claimed to be the test launch of a new Hwasong-17 ICBM.
Aimed at domestic audience
Kim In-tae from the state-run Institute for National Security Strategy assessed that a series of statements issued by Kim Yo-jong was “unusual.”
Kim Yo-jong, who serves as a mouthpiece for North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, had remained silent since last September. But after a six-month hiatus, she on Sunday publicly slammed the South Korean defense minister’s remarks. In a rare move, North Korea’s top military official Pak Jong-chon issued a separate press statement on the matter on the same day.
Also noteworthy, the Rodong Sinmun, which mainly targets domestic audiences, covered the three statements issued by Kim and Pak for three days, unlike in the past. North Korea’s internal-oriented media outlets had barely carried the Kim Jong-un regime’s message to South Korea and the US.
Kim In-tae said that Pyongyang appeared to “wait for an opportunity” to denounce the South Korean government and raise tension, given that Suh’s comments did not seem “too offensive.”
“North Korea acts like it has been waiting for an excuse to provoke South Korea,” he said. “Therefore, my view is that the statement targets the domestic audience rather than South Korea and other external audiences.”
Kim In-tae assessed that Kim Yo-jong’s statement underscored North Korea’s military strength, especially in the wake of the purported “successful test launch” of the Hwasong-17 ICBM following the failure observed by residents in Pyongyang.
In particular, North Korea would see a necessity to boost the people’s morale as it has been gearing up for major political events this month, including the 110th anniversary of national founder Kim Il-sung’s birth, and the 90th anniversary of the Korean People’s Army
“North Korea intends to show off its achievements in national defense development and its status as a nuclear weapons state to the elite and the people,” Kim said.
Analysts also shared the view that North Korea sought to capitalize on the South Korean defense minister’s remarks to drive home the threat and reinforce internal solidarity.
“North Korea seeks to strengthen the siege mentality … by referring to a preemptive strike against the country,” Park from Ewha Womans University said.
“North Korea pursues raising the people’s threat perception and also reaffirms that weapons development should be a priority rather than economic growth.”