South Korea warned North Korea on Tuesday that using its nuclear weapons would set it on a “path of self-destruction,” in unusually harsh language.
The statement came days after North Korea legislated a new law that would allow it to use its nuclear weapons preemptively.
North Korea is likely to respond to South Korea's rhetoric, as Seoul generally avoids such strong words to avoid escalating tensions on the Korean peninsula.
South Korea's Defense Ministry said the legislation would only deepen North Korea's isolation and prompt Seoul and Washington to “further strengthen their deterrence and reaction capabilities.”
To stop North Korea from using its nuclear weapons, the ministry said South Korea will greatly boost its own preemptive strike, missile defense and massive retaliation capabilities, while seeking greater security commitment from the United States.
“We warn that the North Korean government will face an overwhelming response from the US-South Korea alliance. military alliance and go down the path of self-destruction, if it tries to use nuclear weapons,” Moon Hong Sik, an acting spokesman for the ministry, told reporters.
Last week, North Korea's parliament adopted legislation on the rules governing its nuclear arsenal.
The legislation would allow North Korea to use its nuclear weapons if its leadership faces imminent attack or if it aims to prevent an unspecified “catastrophic crisis” for its people.
The vague wording raised concerns that the rules are largely intended as a legal basis for using its nuclear weapons preemptively to bully rivals into making concessions amid long-stalled diplomacy over its weapons arsenal.
South Korea's new president, Yoon Suk Yeol, is taking a tougher stance against North Korean aggression than his predecessors.
During the parliament meeting, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said in a speech that his country will never give up the nuclear weapons it needs to deal with threats from the United States.
He accused the United States of pushing to weaken the North's defenses and eventually collapse his government.
Kim has accelerated weapons testing to a record pace this year by test-launching a large number of nuclear-capable ballistic missiles targeting both the mainland United States and South Korea. For months, US and South Korean officials have said North Korea could also conduct its first nuclear test in five years.
Since taking office in May, South Korea's new conservative government, led by President Yoon Suk Yeol, has said it would take a tougher stance in the face of North Korea's provocation, but also offered plans for massive support if the North denuclearises.
North Korea has bluntly rejected this offer of disarmament assistance and has unleashed crude insults on the Yoon government.
North Korea continues its efforts to accelerate the development of its nuclear missile program, despite protests of discontent from other leaders around the world.
Seoul's use of words like “self-destruction” is unusual, but not the first time. When South Korea was ruled by another conservative leader, Park Geun-hye, from 2013 to 2017, her government also warned that North Korea would evaporate from the Earth or self-destruct with her provocations as the North conducted a series of tests. nuclear and missiles.
Liberal President Moon Jae-in, who held office from 2017 to this year, advocated further reconciliation between the Koreas.
He was credited with organizing the now-stalled nuclear diplomacy between Pyongyang and Washington, but also faced criticism that such diplomacy only bought Kim Jong Un time to perfect weapons technology while enjoying a lofty position on the world stage.