Korean ‘Reunification’ Abandoned: Risk of Pyongyang Military Action against Seoul Has Increased

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has declared that his nation is abandoning peaceful reunification with South Korea. The risk of military action by North Korea against South Korea has further increased. Japan, the United States and South Korea must work quickly to enhance deterrence.

In his policy speech at the Supreme People’s Assembly, Kim said, “The original concept … that South Korea is the partner for reconciliation and reunification … [runs] contradictory to reality.” Kim added that South Korea should be defined in North Korea’s Constitution as the “primary foe and invariable principal enemy.”

He also stressed that a new policy toward South Korea has been introduced “on the basis of putting an end to the nearly 80 year-long history of inter-Korean relations.” Kim instructed that the three major principles of unification — independence, peaceful reunification and great national unity — be removed from the Constitution. The Pyongyang agency that serves as a window for dialogue with Seoul will also reportedly be abolished.

In addition, Pyongyang’s Monument to the Three Charters for National Reunification, which had symbolized the spirit of unification, has been demolished.

Though it has become an empty phrase, “peaceful reunification” had been the core of Pyongyang’s policy toward South Korea since the time of North Korean founder Kim Il Sung. Why has Kim Jong Un now decided to change the main principle inherited from his grandfather through his father, Kim Jong Il?

It is only natural that there is growing concern in the international community that this could be part of preparations for North Korea to start a war against South Korea.

Particularly worrying are the current Kim’s conspicuous words and actions suggesting a nuclear attack on South Korea. Late last year, Kim said that he would not hesitate to launch a nuclear attack if the enemy provoked North Korea with nuclear weapons. North Korea has also repeatedly launched cruise missiles capable of carrying tactical nuclear warheads.

Some believe that Kim is stepping up military threats in a bid to get the United States to accept direct negotiations with North Korea or to agree to lift sanctions imposed against Pyongyang — but such an idea itself is outrageous. Such intimidation, which could lead to conflict, is unacceptable.

There is no doubt that this series of moves is a reaction against the South Korean administration of President Yoon Suk Yeol, which is taking a tough stance toward North Korea in cooperation with Japan and the United States.

However, what has brought Japan, the United States and South Korea together is the fact that North Korea is ignoring U.N. Security Council resolutions and sanctions against Pyongyang and is pushing ahead with its nuclear and missile development.

The words and actions of China and Russia, permanent members of the Security Council and supporters of North Korea, are also problematic. Even though North Korea has repeatedly launched missiles, both countries have blocked additional sanctions.

Russia especially is suspected of supporting Pyongyang’s development of satellite launch technology in return for arms supplies from North Korea. China and Russia must immediately cease actions that are emboldening North Korea.

In order to deter North Korea, it is essential that Japan, the United States and South Korea strengthen their unity and prepare for any contingency. At the same time, it is necessary to send a message of warning to Kim that if he gets out of control, it will lead to the collapse of his regime.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 5, 2024)