US-South Korean actions stoke nuclear tensions with DPRK

Nuclear tensions have increased on the Korean Peninsula, as continued provocation from the US and South Korea resulted in DPRK (North Korean) leader Kim Jong Un announcing that he had finally giving up on the idea of peaceful reunification.

On January 1, South Korea’s defence ministry repeated threats to destroy the DPRK “regime” if it uses nuclear weapons. The South claims this was a response to Kim Jong Un’s speech the previous day in which he told the DPRK military to prepare for possible war. In reality, however, Washington and Seoul have deliberately escalated tensions.

“Last year, the US and South Korea agreed to increase their cooperation on the planning for the use of nuclear weapons following earlier statements by South Korean President, Yoon Suk Yeol, that suggested Seoul might develop its own nuclear weapons,” reported the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). “Yoon has since cooled talk of acquiring nuclear weapons, but the debate continues in policy circles.”

ICAN says that another escalatory move is the increasing military cooperation between the US, South Korea and Japan, the latter of which also supports the use of US nuclear weapons in its defence.

The DPRK has repeatedly stated its commitment to disarmament, has a stated policy that nuclear weapons “will never be abused or used as a means for pre-emptive strike.” However, it also argues that because of the severe threats it faces from US nuclear arms in the region, it needs to develop nuclear weapons as a deterrent.

Alicia Sanders-Zakre, ICAN’s Policy and Research Coordinator, warns that “Inflammatory nuclear rhetoric and threats, accompanied by military exercises and weapons tests, ramp up tensions and bring us closer to the brink of catastrophe.” Sanders-Zakre argues that “all nuclear-weapons states – including North Korea and the US, as well as those allied on nuclear policies, such as Japan and South Korea – need to take urgent steps to de-escalate tensions and to break free from the dangerous doctrine of nuclear deterrence.”

At their meeting in November 2023, the states parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) declared that “the renewed advocacy, insistence on and attempts to justify nuclear deterrence as a legitimate security doctrine gives false credence to the value of nuclear weapons for national security and dangerously increases the risk of horizontal and vertical nuclear proliferation.”

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