Published : 2013-10-04 20:59
Updated : 2013-10-04 20:59
North Korea unleashed a new salvo in an escalating war of words over nuclear threats when its vice foreign minister, Pak Kil-yon, addressed the U.N. General Assembly in New York on Tuesday. He said South Korea was “creating the danger of driving relations back into a destructive stage again.”
Claiming that hostile U.S. policy was the cause of tension on the Korean Peninsula, he also accused Washington of abusing its power on the U.N. Security Council against North Korea. He was apparently referring to the sanctions the U.N. Security Council imposed on the North after it conducted its third nuclear test in February.
North Korea, though it may have nuclear weapons in its possession, cannot be placed among “nuclear weapons states” ― a legal term used in the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to refer to the nations that had detonated a nuclear device prior to 1967. Yet, Pyongyang desires to be treated as a new nuclear power like India and Pakistan, if not like a nuclear weapons state, given Pak’s proposal to hold nuclear disarmament negotiations with Washington.
Contrary to Pak’s claim that U.S. policy must be held responsible for conflict on the Korean Peninsula, it is North Korea’s nuclear weapons program ― which poses a grave threat to South Korea’s security ― that is escalating confrontation on the peninsula. The North has also been testing long-range ballistic missiles, causing a potential security threat to the United States.
Under these circumstances, it is only natural for the South to lay claim to the right to launch preemptive strikes when the North is poised to launch a missile or nuclear attacks. The United States appears to have endorsed South Korea’s strategy of detecting signs of impending missile or nuclear attacks and launching preemptive strikes. One such indication is an agreement with South Korea, as U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel put on Wednesday, on “tailored deterrence against the threat of North Korean nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction.”
Neither Hagel nor his South Korean counterpart, Kim Kwan-jin, referred to preemptive strikes in unambiguous terms when they mentioned the “tailored deterrence” strategy. Instead, their joint communique said, “This strategy establishes a strategic alliance framework for tailoring deterrence against key North Korean nuclear threat scenarios across armistice and wartime.” Hagel added the United States reaffirms its commitment to support deterrence with its full range of military capabilities, including the nuclear umbrella, conventional strikes and missile defense.
North Korea will do well to read between the lines and act accordingly, instead of exposing itself to the danger of becoming the target of preemptive strikes by taking action that may be construed as an impending nuclear threat.