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Does North Korea’s Kim Jong Un Really Have The Power to Begin a Nuclear War?

Daniel Kim Views  

ⓒ Korean Central News Agency

North Korea is ratcheting up threats by emphasizing the operational deployment of nuclear missiles, assuming the occupation of South Korea as a war objective. While fear persists that North Korea could use nuclear weapons, some observers suggest that its rhetoric and strategic calculations may differ.

Takeshi Watanabe, Director of the Asia Research Department at Japan’s National Institute for Defense Studies (NIDS), expressed doubt about the possibility of realizing North Korea’s nuclear doctrine, which implies the possibility of a pre-emptive nuclear attack. He stated, “Pre-emptive attacks are not new, but they’re hard to find in the real world,” at the 2024 Indo-Pacific Security Policy Forum held at a hotel in Seoul on the 22nd.

Watanabe mentioned the similarity of North Korean and Russian nuclear doctrines, and evaluated that “North Korea has slightly modified the Russian concept.”

Unlike Russia possessing powerful conventional forces, North Korea is relatively weaker and may have put forward an offensive posture using nuclear weapons.

In the same context, the analysis suggests that Russia’s choice of actual war over war threats to Ukraine was possible due to its strong conventional forces.

Watanabe stated, “North Korea maintaining the option of war threats could be strategically more advantageous,” suggesting that North Korea could pursue nuclear coercion without war.

It is pointed out that the essence of North Korea’s nuclear strategy could be maximizing fear based on the belief system that nuclear weapons can be used.

Watanabe also noted that the North Korean nuclear doctrine, which implies the possibility of a pre-emptive nuclear attack, reflects related intentions.

While the conventional approach is to seek counterforce to incapacitate enemy military capabilities after striking major strategic facilities or countervalue, North Korea appears to view counterforce itself as a deterrent.

North Korea has been repeatedly conducting exercises to use nuclear weapons in areas where South Korean and US forces have gathered immediately after the outbreak of war.

ⓒ Korean Central News Agency

Some suggest that North Korea’s nuclear strategy, which focuses more on threats than actual use, can be glimpsed through the nuclear weapon command and control system.

Kim Bomi, a research fellow at the National Security Strategy Institute, said, “Despite North Korea strongly suggesting the possibility of a pre-emptive nuclear attack, we need to consider why the authority to exercise it lies with a single supreme leader.”

While North Korea categorizes nuclear weapons operating units such as strategic forces and tactical nuclear forces, it is pointed out that if North Korea wants to lower the threshold for nuclear use, it needs to delegate decision-making authority, but no such movement is detected.

Kim stated, “North Korea talks as if it has an automatic (nuclear) retaliation system, but in reality, it may be maintaining an extreme command and control system focused on Kim Jong Un, while externally maximizing the threat effect. This is a question worth pondering.”

ⓒ Korean Central News Agency

However, it is pointed out that managing messages for preparations related to the possibility of North Korea’s accidental use of nuclear weapons is important.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Laos Peter Haymond said, “North Korea will keep assessing whether it can trust what the U.S. is saying while continuously promoting fear using nuclear power.”

It is interpreted that North Korea will be on high alert to see if the U.S. government’s stance, which has publicly stated the end of the North Korean regime in case of nuclear use, continues without wavering.

Haymond said, “We need to think about cases where nuclear weapons are used accidentally,” and added, “If we remind North Korea that such things could lead to the end of the Kim Jong Un regime, it might put them in a difficult position.”

This implies that reinforcing the credibility of the U.S.-ROK extended deterrence to North Korea should not be neglected.

Daniel Kim
content@viewusglobal.com

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