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North highly unlikely to use nukes, says Song

Jan 30,2018
South Korean Minister of National Defense Song Young-moo said Pyongyang is not likely to use nuclear weapons, calling it a self-destructive move and an “anachronistic” notion.

“Should North Korea employ its nuclear weapons against South Korea or the United States, it would probably be wiped off the map,” Song said at the Fullerton Forum in Singapore Monday, hosted by the International Institute for Strategic Studies. “What we are experiencing right now is a part of the Kim Jong-un regime’s propaganda strategy, so I believe such a situation will never occur.”

Song was responding to a question on whether North Korea’s nuclear weapons program is meant for coercive and expansionist purposes, including reunification on Pyongyang’s terms.

“As we saw in various examples around the world with the end of the Cold War era in the last century, we have moved beyond to an era where just having powerful nuclear weapons doesn’t necessarily mean we can use them,” said Song. “Thus, it’s an anachronistic idea that North Korea will use nuclear weapons for unification.”

He continued, “I believe North Korea’s statements and behavior are a message to South Korea and the United States not to intervene in its internal matters and a means to consolidate power and further their domestic political agenda.”

But Song acknowledged that North Korea’s use of a nuclear weapon is a possibility that must be taken into consideration.

“If North Korea develops and uses a nuclear weapon on South Korea, then it will be met by a response that is even more destructive through conventional means,” warned Song, adding that though South Korea does not possess nuclear weapons, it possesses military intelligence and capabilities necessary to neutralize North Korean targets.

“We have these military capabilities not to attack North Korea but to be able to deter North Korea,” he said. “That is the crux of our defense reform plans and the Moon Jae-in administration’s policy: to attain deterrence not for the purpose of going to war but for keeping peace.”

During a keynote address to the forum, Song said, “South Korea, under no circumstances, will accept North Korea as a nuclear power.”

He continued, “On the one hand, South Korea would continue to strongly respond to North Korea’s provocations, and on the other hand, we will utilize all possible measures including sanctions and dialogue to achieve complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

Also known as the “IISS Shangri-La Dialogue Sherpa Meeting,” the forum drew some 75 senior defense officials and high-ranking military officers, as well as civilian experts, to discuss key regional security issues. The participants came from over 20 countries. Song, a former chief of naval operations, gave an assessment of security threats including North Korea, the direction of Seoul’s security policy and recommendations for Asia-Pacific maritime security cooperation.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]