North Korea's new law lets it strike first with nuclear force if its leadership faces an imminent threat
- North Korea passed new legislation permitting preemptive nuclear strikes if its leadership is threatened.
- The new law overrides a previous law that emphasized the use of nukes primarily for retaliation.
North Korea passed new legislation this week that permits the country's nuclear forces to strike first with nuclear weapons in the event that a threat of an imminent attack on its leadership is detected, among other scenarios, state media reported.
The law states that "in case the command and control system over the state nuclear forces is placed in danger owing to an attack by hostile forces, a nuclear strike shall be launched automatically and immediately to destroy the hostile forces," according to the state news agency KCNA.
It further establishes a wide range of conditions in which North Korea can pre-emptively conduct a nuclear strike, with conditions including an attack or evidence of an impending attack with either conventional or weapons of mass destruction against the state, strategic targets, or state leadership.
The legislation, which was passed by the Supreme People's Assembly, overhauls a 2013 law that stated that North Korea can use nuclear weapons to "repel invasion or attack from a hostile nuclear weapons state and make retaliatory strikes."
The new law and first-use doctrine is likely intended to give US and South Korean war planners pause, Chad O'Carroll, who founded NK News, wrote on Twitter, explaining that "in a nutshell, there are some really vague & ambiguous circumstances in which North Korea is now saying it might use its nuclear weapons."
The earlier law declared the Democratic People's Republic of Korea a "full-fledged nuclear weapons state capable of beating back any aggressor troops at one strike," though North Korea's nuclear weapons and delivery systems were not anywhere near as developed then as they are today.
North Korea has conducted three additional nuclear weapons tests since then, and there are expectations that it could soon conduct another test after a years-long pause amid dialogue that ultimately failed to achieve its aims. Each nuclear test has seen increasingly larger explosive yields.
The country, which had also halted its provocative ballistic missile launches, has since resumed such testing, with a flurry of launches this year involving everything from short-range missiles to purported hypersonic missiles to intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Speaking on Thursday about the nuclear policies, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said that "the utmost significance of legislating nuclear-weapons policy is to draw an irretrievable line so that there can be no bargaining over our nuclear weapons," according to multiple reports.
Amid condemnations of US and South Korean actions, such as recent wargaming, he said that "there will never be any declaration of giving up our nukes or denuclearization, nor any kind of negotiations or bargaining to meet the other side's conditions," effectively declaring its nuclear status irreversible.
North Korea said, however, that it intended to operate as a "responsible nuclear weapons state" that "opposes all forms of war."
North Korea's first-use nuclear doctrine is similar to those implemented by other nuclear powers, though it is vague and potentially raises the risk of a misunderstanding, miscalculation, or accident, especially considering Pyongyang's previous condemnations of regular military drills as preparations for an invasion.
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