Seoul’s defense chief on Monday cast doubt on Pyongyang’s threats to strike the United States or South Korea with nuclear weapons, saying that such a move would result in the country being “literally wiped off the face of the Earth.”
Speaking at a security forum in Singapore that was broadcast over the internet, Defense Minister Song Young-moo also voiced skepticism that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un would use nuclear weapons for coercive purposes, including to reunify the Korean Peninsula on his terms.
“Should North Korea use nuclear weapons against the United States or South Korea, North Korea would be literally wiped off the face of the Earth,” Song said.
“Such a situation will never occur because what are experiencing right now is just another part of Kim Jong Un’s and North Korea’s propaganda strategy.”
Rather, Song said, North Korea’s fiery statements and threats are “simply … a message South Korea and the U.S.” not to meddle in their internal matters, as well as an attempt by the Kim regime to “consolidate its power.”
Asked about reports that South Korea had been considering the reintroduction of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons onto the peninsula, Song denied this was the case, saying that the issue had been the result of a “misunderstanding” by reporters.
The government, he said, will stick to the principle of denuclearization made in 1992 when the two Koreas pledged to abandon all nuclear weapons deployed on the peninsula, including U.S. tactical nukes. The deal was later violated by the North, though it claims the South also reneged on the promise by remaining under the U.S. nuclear umbrella.
“We will not look to possess nuclear weapons, instead we will be pursuing and developing extended deterrence capabilities,” Song said in reference to the U.S. nuclear umbrella and the deployment of so-called strategic assets, including aircraft carriers and advanced bombers, to the region.
The United States reportedly had about 100 nuclear weapons, including short-range artillery with nuclear warheads, stationed in the South until 1991, when President George Bush signed the Presidential Nuclear Initiative and withdrew all naval and land-based tactical nuclear weapons that had been deployed overseas. Shortly after this, the two North and South inked their deal.
Song’s remarks came a day after North Korea urged the South to halt the rotation of U.S. strategic assets to the region, 60 years after the United States first officially introduced nuclear weapons to the peninsula.
“All compatriots in the north and the south and abroad should reject the anti-DPRK moves of the U.S. to bring clouds of a nuclear war to hang over Korea, and … struggle to drive the U.S. nuclear hardware and aggression forces out of south Korea,” the state-run Korean Central News Agency quoted an unnamed spokesperson for the Korean National Peace Committee as saying Sunday. DPRK is the acronym for the North’s formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
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