Kim Jong Un expanded the circumstances under which North Korea would launch a nuclear strike — including an automatic attack if its leaders were threatened — further raising the stakes for any military confrontation with the United States and its allies.
North Korea outlined its new nuclear doctrine in a law approved by the Supreme People’s Assembly in Pyongyang on Thursday, according to the Korean Central News Agency. The legislation, which replaces a less expansive law passed in 2013, sets out five conditions for the use of weapons of mass destruction, including in response to conventional attacks on heads of state and to prevent “the expansion or prolongation of a conflict.
The legislation codifies a softer nuclear doctrine articulated by Kim as early as April, when he said the country’s strategic rocket forces had a “second mission” in addition to deterring wars. The change appeared to be aimed at protecting Kim himself, whose administration has long accused the United States and South Korea of ​​seeking regime change in Pyongyang.
“They are elevating a nuclear deterrence policy to a nuclear combat policy,” said Kim Tae-woo, a military analyst who previously headed the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul. “It’s a very effective and inexpensive strategy to deter attacks on Kim.”
The Kim regime has intensified its warnings to Washington and Seoul since the election of South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol in March. Yoon vowed to take a tougher line against Pyongyang than his pro-reconciliation predecessor, and during the campaign said he would support a preemptive strike to prevent a missile attack from the north.
North Korea’s legislation could heighten concerns about the risks of miscalculation or an unintended nuclear conflict in the Asia-Pacific region. While it gives Kim sole control of the country’s nuclear forces, it also authorizes a system for “automatically and immediately launching” an attack if the command and control structure is in jeopardy.
The shift comes amid global calls for new arms control efforts after Russian warnings of the risk of nuclear war against Ukraine, reports of China’s atomic arsenal expansion and the withdrawal of United States of key agreements. The world’s nuclear states are expected to increase their arsenals over the next decade, even as the number of such weapons fell last year, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute said in June.
The legislation came a day before the 74th anniversary of the country’s founding on Friday, a date that coincided with the regime’s past displays of military might. Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin were among the leaders to mark the occasion with messages to Kim, with both men also calling for stronger ties with the nation.
In a speech to parliament, Kim reaffirmed his refusal to give up his nuclear arsenal, despite his 2018 pledge with former US President Donald Trump to “work towards the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula”. North Korea has so far rejected President Joe Biden’s calls for Kim to resume talks.
“By legislating the policy of nuclear force, our nation’s status as a nuclear-weapon state has become irreversible,” Kim told lawmakers. “We will never give up nuclear weapons or denuclearize first, and we have nothing to bargain for in the negotiations.”
Kim’s arrival in the room was greeted with cheers of “Hurrah!” KCNA said, describing the reaction as “a token of their deep reverence for him, a symbol of all Korea’s victories and glory. socialist”.
The North Korean leader backed up his remarks with tests of weapons designed to evade US missile defenses in Asia and deliver warheads to the American mainland. US and South Korean officials have been warning for months that North Korea is preparing for the country’s first nuclear test since September 2017, after pledging to develop new miniaturized warheads for more powerful tactical weapons and bombs that will would be carried away by long-range rockets.
An expected lull in summer rains flooding North Korea’s mountainous testing site and a recent declaration by the Kim regime declaring victory over a nationwide Covid outbreak have rekindled speculation that such a protest could be imminent.
“They are preparing for another nuclear test,” said Shin Jin, a political science professor at National Chungnam University and director of the National Institute of Strategy. “September offers a window of opportunity as the mess of typhoon and Covid outbreaks has subsided.”

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