North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has enshrined the country’s status as a nuclear power in law and allowed the use of pre-emptive strikes, as the regime seeks to take advantage of mounting tensions between the US and Russia and China to shift policy.
State media reported on Friday that Kim had vowed to never enter into talks on giving up his nuclear weapons after the law was passed by the country’s supreme people’s assembly the previous day.
Analysts said North Korea’s declared nuclear doctrine now allows pre-emptive strikes in a wide range of scenarios, including when the country or the government is attacked by conventional forces. The previous policy only allowed for the use of nuclear weapons in a second-strike scenario.
“There will never be any declaration of ‘giving up our nukes’ or ‘denuclearisation’, nor any kind of negotiations or bargaining to meet the other side’s conditions,” Kim said on Thursday.
“As long as nuclear weapons exist on earth and imperialism remains . . . our road towards strengthening nuclear power won’t stop,” he added.
North Korea’s illicit ballistic missile programme has grown steadily in scale and sophistication in recent years, despite comprehensive UN sanctions imposed in the wake of a nuclear test and intercontinental ballistic missile launch in 2017.
The sanctions on North Korea were agreed to by all five permanent members of the UN security council, including the US, Russia and China.
But Pyongyang and Moscow have become visibly closer in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
US officials confirmed this week that Russia has purchased rockets and artillery shells from North Korea as western sanctions begin to choke Moscow’s supply of weapons. The Kim regime was also one of just four countries — other than Russia — to oppose a UN general assembly resolution condemning the military action this year.
Moscow and Beijing are pushing for the restrictions to be eased and vetoed the imposition of new sanctions on Pyongyang for the first time in May.
A senior western diplomat said the Kim regime has become more confident as tensions between the west and Russia and China have increased.
“Pyongyang has clearly been emboldened by the deterioration in relations between Russia and China and the US,” they said. “The worse it gets, the stronger they feel.”
Analyst said the new nuclear policy was an attempt to entrench the country’s position as a nuclear power.
“Kim Jong Un is trying to normalise North Korea’s nuclear weapons with domestic laws and proclamations,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha Womans University in Seoul.
“With so many self-inflicted economic challenges, this is a matter of regime legitimacy. It is also an attempt to present North Korea’s nuclear status as a fait accompli to the world.”