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Seoul warns of N Korean regime termination, if nuclear weapons used

President Joe Biden and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol. (Yuri Gripas/Abaca Press/TNS)
October 15, 2023

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

South Korea warned that it would seek to terminate the Kim Jong Un regime should nuclear weapons be used in practice, calling Pyongyang’s nuclear intimidation a “grave challenge” to the international community.

“Despite repeated warnings from the international community over the past several decades, North Korea has been upgrading its nuclear and missile capabilities. Moreover, it has been blatantly threatening to use nuclear weapons,” South Korea’s President Yoon Suk Yeol said Tuesday, in a speech to celebrate the South’s Oct. 1, Armed Forces Day.

“If North Korea uses nuclear weapons, its regime will be brought to an end by an overwhelming response from the ROK-U.S. alliance,” Yoon said, referring to South Korea’s formal name. He called the North’s nuclear gamble an “existential threat” to South Korea, and poses a “grave challenge” to global peace.

“Our people will never be deceived by the fake peace tricks of North Korea’s communist regime, its followers and anti-state forces,” the President stressed, adding that South Korea will further strengthen trilateral security cooperation with Washington and Tokyo.

Yoon’s comments are the latest in a recent spate of warnings amid rising tensions and the North’s accelerated provocations. North Korea announced a new law regarding its use of nuclear weapons in September last year. In the new legislation, Pyongyang delineated the circumstances under which nuclear weapons could be used, giving it the option to  deploy nuclear weapons not merely as a retaliatory measure, but also as a pre-emptive strike mechanism to bolster its deterrence capabilities.

The legislation grants the nation the authority to use nuclear weapons preemptively in scenarios where: a weapon of mass destruction launch or approach is assessed, a nuclear or non-nuclear assault on the state leadership and the command structure of the state’s nuclear forces is initiated or deemed imminent, or a lethal military attack on significant strategic assets of the state is initiated or deemed imminent. 

“The North Korean regime must clearly realize that nuclear weapons will never be able to guarantee its security,” Yoon said, vowing that he would expand the scope of the U.S.-South Korea alliance into the space and cyber domains to further strengthen the allies’ capabilities.

Yoon also pinpointed the North Korean regime’s vulnerable point. “The North Korean regime’s obsession with the development of nuclear weapons aggravates the North Korean people’s suffering. It continues to exploit and oppress its people and violate their human rights,” he said.

South Korea has indicated that it would continue to raise the North’s human rights issue. It appointed a North Korean defector as its top policy aide earlier this month, underscoring the Yoon administration’s renewed stance towards a more hardline policy on Pyongyang.

Yoon’s warning came a day after North Korea labeled him a “political immature”, “diplomatic idiot” and “trash-like head.”

The verbal tit-for-tat between the Koreas this week followed Yoon’s harsh message to North Korea and Russia at the U.N. General Assembly last week, vowing that Seoul and its allies “would not just stand idly by,” should the two authoritarian states pursue military cooperation.

In a bilateral summit earlier this month, Russian President Vladimir Putin had offered to aid Kim in perfecting his “satellite” technology. 

Yoon, who is a conservative, has been seeking to align Seoul’s foreign policy stance with the U.S. to counter global challenges including North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.