13:45 GMT +319 October 2019
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    In this Aug. 10, 2017, file photo, a man watches a television screen showing U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un during a news program at the Seoul Train Station in Seoul, South Korea.

    North Korean Lawmaker: Nuclear Weapons Meant to Counter Only US, No One Else

    © AP Photo / Ahn Young-joon
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    A senior North Korean official has publicly stated that the North Korean nuclear weapons program is intended for exactly one country: the United States. The official, a deputy of the Supreme People's Assembly, insisted that Asian nations were safe, provided they did not provoke North Korea.

    Ri Jong-hyok, a deputy assemblyman of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK) that controls 607 of the 687 seats in the assembly, made a speech during the Asian Parliamentary Assembly in Turkey earlier in November. "Today's reality shows that our obtaining of nuclear [weapons] shatters the US ambition to secure its supremacy in the Asia-Pacific region and safeguards peace and security on the Korean Peninsula and its region," Ri said, according to the WPK's official newspaper, Rodong Sinmun.

    "It's Korean people's resolute decision that [North Korea] should face off the US only with nuclear [weapons] to achieve the balance of power. Our nuclear deterrence is a sword of justice aimed at fighting [American] 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."

    As the crisis on the Korean Peninsula threatens to enter its eighth month with no signs of letting up, the North Korean strategy has become more apparent: to break the cooperation between Japan and South Korea with the United States. The US maintains a strong military presence in both of its East Asian allies, and the three powers have mostly moved in lock-step against their mutual enemy.

    There were signs of tension between US President Donald Trump and then-new South Korean leader Moon Jae-in in May and June, but after Pyongyang tested the Hwasong-14 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in early July the two leaders put aside their many differences and conducted numerous military exercises together. The US has pledged to defend South Korea or Japan if either comes under attack by North Korea.

    North Korean actions, such as essentially ignoring their traditional rival South Korea in favor of the US, or threatening Japan with missile tests that pass over Japanese territory in August and September, have been interpreted by observers as attempts to drive wedges between the powers, to convince South Korea and Japan that American military might can't protect them, and to deter the US from any military action against Pyongyang.

    Japan and South Korea's reservations are well known: namely, they fear a unilateral American strike on North Korean nuclear sites that could send the region spinning into war. Trump's "America First" rhetoric during his presidential campaign and the early days of his presidency didn't help with that.

    Meanwhile in Washington, the debate rages over what to do if the North Koreans are able to build an effective nuclear ICBM that could strike an American city. The US missile defense system has a spotty record, and it's unlikely that the US would risk the destruction of Los Angeles or New York to protect Seoul or Tokyo.

    Although the Trump White House has assured allies and lawmakers that they have the situation in hand, it isn't clear what the American macro-strategy in the region is — or if there even is one.

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    Tags:
    nuclear deterrence, nuclear weapons, North Korea's nuclear program, Moon Jae-in, Donald Trump, Ri Jong-hyok, Japan, South Korea, Democratic Republic of North Korea (DPRK)
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