A senior North Korean official publicly emphasized that North Korea’s nuclear weapons program is targeting no other country but the United States, according to North Korean media reports cited by Yonhap news agency on November 26.
“Today’s reality shows that our obtaining of nuclear (weapons) shatters the U.S. ambition to secure its supremacy in the Asia-Pacific region and safeguards peace and security on the Korean Peninsula and its region,” Ri Jong-hyok, deputy of North Korea’s Supreme People’s Assembly, was quoted as saying in a speech during the Asian Parliamentary Assembly last week in Turkey.
“It’s Korean people’s resolute decision that (North Korea) should face off the U.S. only with nuclear (weapons) to achieve the balance of power,” Ri added, according to Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the ruling Korean Workers’ Party. “Our nuclear deterrence is a sword of justice aimed at fighting (U.S.) nukes and Asia and any country in the world need not worry about our threats as long as they do not join invasion and provocations toward us.”
Ri’s remarks are consistent with North Korea’s strategy of attempting to drive a wedge between the United States and its regional allies in East Asia, South Korea and Japan. Pyongyang feels acutely threatened by the U.S. military presence in both countries, including the United States’ pledge to come to the defense of both South Korea and Japan in the event of a military confrontation with North Korea.
Various analysts have argued that North Korea with it provocative actions in recent months, including the launch of a Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile over Japanese territory and a sixth nuclear test, is trying to “decouple” the United States from its regional allies. The rationale behind Pyongyang’s strategy: The United State will likely not risk the destruction of an American city by a North Korean nuclear strike to defend Seoul or Tokyo. As a result, neither Japan nor South Korea can count on the U.S. nuclear umbrella for protection. While the United States has repeatedly tried to reassure its regional allies of its “ironclad” defense commitment doubts persist.
In addition, Ri’s speech plays into worries over U.S. President Donald Trump’s bellicose language vis-à-vis Pyongyang and the possibility of U.S. preventive strikes on North Korean missiles sites. Both Japan and South Korea have expressed their deep concerns over possible U.S. unilateral military action, accentuated by president Trump’s “America First” rhetoric, that could trigger a nuclear war.
The Trump White House has so far failed to present and implement a coherent strategy to deal with the nuclear stand-off on the Korean Peninsula. Last week, in an attempt to further isolate the Kim Jong-un regime, the United States designated North Korea a state sponsor of terrorism. North Korea has called the move a “serious provocation,” a “violent infringement,” and “tantamount to another declaration of war.”