Urgent need to strengthen deterrence of Japan, U.S., South Korea

North Korea has set forth a policy that allows for the preemptive use of nuclear weapons. In response to this growing threat, Japan, the United States and South Korea must build deterrence to dissuade North Korea from using nuclear weapons.

The Supreme People’s Assembly of North Korea adopted a new law on nuclear policy. It provides that, in addition to cases in which North Korea is attacked by nuclear weapons or weapons of mass destruction, North Korea can use nuclear weapons in the event that such an attack is imminent.

The person who makes such a decision is North Korea’s paramount leader, Kim Jong Un, the general secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea.

A 2013 law limited the use of nuclear weapons to retaliation against a country that had attacked North Korea. This time, the 2013 law has been nullified and the conditions for the use of nuclear weapons have been greatly eased. It can be said that this has created a framework to justify the preemptive use of nuclear weapons under the pretext of an imminent attack by another country.

By changing its previous policy of using nuclear weapons for “self-defense purposes” and threatening to use them preemptively, North Korea is likely aiming to establish a military advantage over Japan, the United States and South Korea.

In his speech at the assembly, Kim described the new law as an “accomplishment of historic cause” and indicated that as a “nuclear nation” he would no longer accept negotiations on denuclearization. This is simply a foolish policy that leaves the people in poverty and entrusts the survival of the nation to inhumane nuclear weapons.

In addition to developing intercontinental ballistic missiles that can reach the U.S. mainland, North Korea has in recent years repeatedly launched short-range ballistic missiles targeting Japan and South Korea. New missiles flying at irregular trajectories or at hypersonic speeds are difficult to intercept with existing defense systems in Japan.

If these missiles are deployed for actual warfare, they will pose a serious threat. It is imperative to improve interception and counterattack readiness.

In the event of a North Korean attack on Japan or South Korea, the key will be the ability of the U.S. to retaliate, including with nuclear weapons. It is necessary to enhance the credibility of “extended deterrence” in which the U.S. regards a North Korean attack against Japan or South Korea as an attack on its own country.

The United States held an Extended Deterrence Strategy and Consultation Group (EDSCG) meeting with South Korea this month and pledged to provide the “full range of its military capabilities,” including nuclear and conventional forces. Joint drills between a U.S. nuclear-powered aircraft carrier and the South Korean military will also be conducted off the coast of South Korea. The aim is clearly to hold North Korea in check.

The previous administrations of both Washington and Seoul held a rather forward-leaning stance toward negotiations with Pyongyang, but no denuclearization was achieved and U.S.-South Korea security cooperation was stagnant. It is significant that the United States and South Korea started to move forward enhancing cooperation with the resumption of EDSCG talks for the first time in four years and eight months.

Tokyo must not allow Pyongyang to take advantage of Japan. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and U.S. President Joe Biden have confirmed the importance of extended deterrence talks. Concrete efforts must be made to enhance the effectiveness of the U.S. nuclear umbrella.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 25, 2022)