North Korean Nuclear Doctrine Unveiled

On Aug. 10, 2023, North Korea’s state-run Rodong Sinmun reported that Kim Jong-un had reached an “important conclusion on further stepping up the war preparations of the Korean People’s Army in an offensive way,” during a meeting of the Worker’s Party of Korea’s Central Military Commission on Aug. 9. The article ran photos of Kim gesturing toward the general area of Seoul on a map of the Korean Peninsula. Image via KCNA.

The denuclearization of North Korea still remains elusive decades after the DPRK conducted its first nuclear test in 2006, but the reason for its nuclear threats is becoming clearer and more dangerous as time passes. 

At the 9th plenary meeting of the 8th central committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea on December 27, 2023, Kim Jong Un abandoned North Korea’s “Three Principles of Reunification” of “sovereignty, peace, and national unity,” which had been in place for more than 70 years and implied that the North wouldn’t attack the South with its nuclear weapons. 

Marking a significant departure from that policy, Kim Jong Un declared an armed reunification policy toward South Korea, boldly stating that he could “subdue the entire territory” through North Korea’s military capabilities, which include the use of nuclear force.

This bold declaration unveiled the objective that North Korea has been pursuing through its nuclear weapons program: using its “nuclear sword” to expel the US from the Korean Peninsula and reunify with South Korea through nuclear force.

Emphasizing the DPRK’s nukes as offensive weapons, not deterrents or bargaining chips

North Korea’s nuclear program is not a new issue. It has been on and off for decades, with many countries involved. The Six-Party Talks and the historic US-North Korea summit in 2018 are examples in point.

Previously, many people thought North Korea pursued its nuclear weapons program as bargaining chips and to protect the country from the military threat of the United States, the DPRK’s powerful archenemy armed to the teeth with nukes. 

Accordingly, many politicians and North Korea experts believed that North Korea continuously used its growing nuclear capabilities to bring the U.S. and other countries to the negotiating table to extract various types of concessions.

Therefore, the main policy prescriptions to deal with the North’s nuclear threats included security guarantees and economic compensation in exchange for the North to give up its nuclear program.

Now, the situation has changed because the North’s new purpose for developing nuclear weapons has been unveiled through the revelation of the North Korean Nuclear Doctrine.

North Korea needs a “nuclear sword” to drive the US – its archenemy and an obstacle to reunification – off the Korean Peninsula to achieve armed reunification with nuclear weapons under the North’s leadership. 

From “unifying as one people” to targeting an enemy for destruction

This new nuclear doctrine directly contradicts the North’s previous “good nuclear policy,” which stated that nuclear weapons must only protect the country against its imperialistic adversaries and must never be used against fellow Koreans in the South. 

This contradiction began when Kim Jong Un and Kim Yo Jong, a powerful member of the DPRK’s State Affairs Commission, began to publicly refer to the “Republic of Korea” last year, meaning South Korea is currently considered a different country that North Korea can now attack.

North Korea’s new nuclear policy has been interpreted in various ways, including psychological warfare, a tactic to create confusion, North Korea’s abandonment of unification, or a continuation of the DPRK’s existing reunification policy. 

Regardless, it’s increasingly clear that South Korea is no longer viewed as a partner for eventual reunification, but a “belligerent country” to be destroyed. This means that ultimately, South Korea must have the power to overwhelm North Korea with nuclear weapons, either on its own or in conjunction with the United States. 

Without its own powerful nuclear deterrent, South Korea risks a nuclear attack from the North. It’s time to abandon the illusion of safety from the North’s nuclear threats and acknowledge that North Korea will never give up its nuclear weapons.

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