On March 9, 2022, Yoon Suk-yoel was elected the 20th president of South Korea in the country’s closest democratic race ever. With the incoming conservative president, South Korean Defense Minister Suh Wook mentioned that his country had much improved missiles with the capability to “accurately and quickly hit any target in North Korea.” Kim Yo Jong, the influential sister of leader Kim Jong Un, said that North Korea did not want war but would be forced to use nuclear weapons if South Korea ever attacked. Kim said it was a “big mistake” to make remarks about attacks on North Korea.
Kim warned that Pyongyang would destroy major locations in Seoul if South Korea took any “dangerous military action” such as an invasion or a missile strike. “But if South Korea, for any reason – whether or not it is blinded by misjudgement – opts for such military action as ‘preemptive strike’ touted by (Suh Wook), the situation will change… In that case South Korea will become a target.” Kim said. Both countries have threatened and displayed military capabilities after North Korea tested a range of new and powerful missiles throughout the year. Rachel Minyoung Lee, an analyst for the U.S.-based 38 North project, said Kim’s warnings and statements are likely aimed towards Yoon Suk-yoel, who advocated for a much stronger defense towards North Korean activity.
Kim added that the South was not its main enemy and a war would leave the Korean peninsula in ruins, something that would greatly damage both countries. If the South Korean military were to violate any North Korean territory, it would receive a “terrible disaster” and North Korea would be obligated to use nuclear combat force in order to carry out its duty, Kim said. She put it simply by saying the South needed to drop any “fantastic daydream” of an attack in order to avoid this dangerous fate.
Kim’s repeated her threats in another statement towards Suh Wook’s comments as she called them the “hysteria of a lunatic.” She added that the nuclear force of North Korea would leave the South’s military “little short of total destruction and ruin.” Furthermore, Kim warned the South to “discipline itself if it wants to stave off disaster.”
She continued by saying, “in other words, it means that unless the South Korean army takes any army action against our state, it will not be regarded as a target of our attack.” The message was clear that North Korea would take all necessary military action if attacked by the South.
North Korea did temporarily suspend all long-range and nuclear tests when Former President Donald Trump agreed to have a series of monumental summits with Kim Jong Un. That diplomatic initiative has since stalled, and Kim now seems eager to return to nuclear testing. March 2022 marked the country’s first intercontinental ballistic missile launch since 2017 and analysts are worried that a nuclear missile is next.
Recently, Kim Jong Un observed the test-firing of a new type of tactical guided weapon made to improve the country’s nuclear testing. North Korea has been developing short-range missiles that are programmed to counter missile defenses in the South. The South Korean military has said the two projectiles tested were short-range missiles and flew about 110 km.
North Korea has two missiles capable of reaching the United States: the Hwasong-14, with a range of 10,400 km, and the Hwasong-15, which can reach 13,000 km. North Korea’s biggest nuclear test took place on September 3, 2017, at the Punggye-ri test site. The test was estimated to be six times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945. In 2018, North Korea announced it would suspend these types of tests because its potential had been “verified.”
If military action ensues, North Korea appears to have an advantage in surpassing the total active forces of South Korea. Still, little is known about the advancement and effectiveness of North Korean weapons. The U.S. nuclear envoy will visit Seoul to discuss a response to North Korea’s recent missile launches.
By Kevin Niu