Sept. 9 (BP) — North Korean lawmakers passed a law Friday that officially declares the country a nuclear weapons state, a move that was closely followed by a defiant victory speech from ruler Kim Jong Un in which he seemed to reject any chance for diplomacy.
The law sailed through parliament in a unanimous vote, and Kim called the decree “irreversible” and vowed to “never give up” North Korea’s nuclear weapons.
In a major policy shift, Pyongyang also cleared the way for North Korea’s military to make pre-emptive nuclear strikes in the event of “nuclear or non-nuclear attack by hostile forces.”
The mandate, which also bans sharing nuclear secrets, is the latest salvo in many decades of tensions with the West over the country’s atomic weapons program.
Diplomatic experts say that Friday’s law provides a legal basis for North Korea to gain global acceptance as a legitimate nuclear power.
Despite pervasive sanctions, Western leaders in the past have sought at least some diplomacy with Kim. Donald Trump became the first sitting American president to visit North Korea during a historic meeting with Kim in 2019.
Since becoming president last year, Joe Biden has also expressed a willingness to sit down with leaders in Pyongyang.
North Korea’s military test fires a tactical-guided weapon from an undisclosed location on April 17. File Photo by KCNA/EPA-EFE
Notably, North Korea passed the new law one day after Seoul proposed bilateral talks to solve the issue of families separated by their shared border.
Unification Minister Kwon Young-se formally proposed the talks, saying South Korea hopes that both sides will meet in person as soon as possible to discuss humanitarian matters, including the issue of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War.
Over the past few years, North Korea is believed to have accelerated development of short-range nuclear missiles capable of striking South Korea. Kim has ordered dozens of ballistic missile tests over the last five years, including several this year — and U.S. intelligence believes North Korea may conduct its first underground nuclear test in five years.
On Friday, Kim justified his growing nuclear capabilities.
“The adoption of laws and regulations related to the national nuclear force policy is a remarkable event as it’s our declaration that we legally acquired war deterrence as a means of national defense,” he said according to CNN.
Kim also gave the United States some of the blame for creating North Korea’s nuclear path.
“As long as nuclear weapons exist on Earth, and imperialism and the anti-North Korean maneuvers of the U.S. and its followers remain, our road to strengthening our nuclear force will never end.”
Some foreign policy experts believe Kim is trying to leverage partnerships with China and Russia to keep the United States off balance in the region. Nearly 30,000 U.S. troops are currently based in South Korea.
Both Beijing and Moscow have recently blocked U.S. efforts in the United Nations to slap additional sanctions on North Korea for testing long-range missiles this year.