North Korea threatened to launch a preemptive nuclear strike on its “aggressors,” including the U.S., ahead of a United Nations vote on tougher sanctions against the totalitarian state for last month’s atomic test.
North Korea “ will exercise the right to a preemptive nuclear attack to destroy the strongholds of the aggressors and to defend the supreme interests of the country,” according to a Foreign Ministry statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency. It warned the UN “not to make another big blunder.”
Kim Jong Un’s regime has increased its threatening rhetoric since the U.S. and China hammered out an accord that the UN Security Council will vote on as soon as today to impose tougher sanctions. While the nuclear test last month was bigger than previous ones, North Korea has yet to demonstrate the ability to put a nuclear device on a ballistic missile.
“This kind of threat of greater counter-measures is classic North Korean style to amplify fear to delay or avoid the sanctions,” Cho Bong Hyun, a Seoul-based research fellow at the IBK Economic Research Institute said. “Stronger sanctions on North Korea are largely accepted by the international community so this statement is unlikely to have any effect on the vote.”
North Korea has made other nuclear threats in the past, saying last month it could “target” the U.S. with an atomic test. Kim, who inherited his position upon his late father Kim Jong Il’s death in December 2011, has worked to secure his legitimacy by preserving a military-first policy while seeking to boost an impoverished economy.
The new sanctions aim to end “illicit activity” by North Korean diplomats, bulk transfers of cash by North Koreans, and banks and companies that may be funneling cash or materials to support the country’s missile and nuclear weapons programs.
Tighter measures will bring forward a stronger retaliation by North Korea in “self-defense,” according to the KCNA statement.
“The Kim Jong Un regime will be abolished if North Korea exercises what it claims is the ’right’ to launch a preemptive nuclear strike,” Kim Min Seok, a spokesman at South Korea’s Defense Ministry said today. “North Korea exercising the right to a nuclear strike would not only be a challenge to nations without a nuclear arsenal, but a threat to humankind.”
The American intelligence community assessment is that North Korea remains some years from achieving the capability to threaten the continental U.S. with a nuclear device small enough to fit on a ballistic missile, though it may pose a nuclear threat to its regional neighbors sooner.
South Korea said after last month’s test that it doubts Kim Jong Un’s regime has perfected the miniaturization technology.
China’s support for the new sanctions may reflect its mounting frustration with the North after the Feb. 12 nuclear test in defiance of both the UN and the Chinese government.
An indication that China’s patience may be wearing thin emerged in a Feb. 27 opinion article in the Financial Times by Deng Yuwen, deputy editor of Study Times, the journal of the Central Party School of the Communist Party, which called for China to “consider abandoning North Korea.”
China is Kim’s biggest trading partner, and North Korea’s dependence has deepened as exports of coals and minerals to its ally has increased. About two-thirds of North Korea’s 24 million people suffer from food insecurity or malnutrition, according to the UN.
North Korea regularly accuses the U.S. and South Korea of military provocations, blaming American policy for bringing the Korea peninsula closer to nuclear war. Kim Jong Un’s regime said on Oct. 9 it was prepared to counter any nuclear or missile attack “in kind.”
Today’s statement is an attempt by North Korea at “watering down the level of sanctions,” said Kim Yong Hyun, a professor of North Korean Studies at Dongguk University in Seoul. “North Korea is expected to gradually heighten its countermeasures, meaning another ballistic missile launch is possible. But they won’t go as extreme as a nuclear strike, even if they say so, because China is involved in the sanctions.”