North Korea recently approved an important issue of strengthening the regime’s war deterrent after deliberation at a Meeting of the 8th Central Military Commission. At the meeting, the North added operation missions while revising operational plans of front-line military units. The state-run Korean Central News Agency released a photo of the North’s military leadership with a map of what appeared to be the east coast of the Korean Peninsula. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un revealed the Party Central Committee’s strategic view and determination while presiding the three-day meeting.
North Korea’s rare mention of revising its war plan with a photo featuring the map of South Korea is an obvious attempt to show that its intention is to target South Korea. The blurred map showed Pohang, North Gyeongsang Province. The revision seems to have a connection to its plan to deploy a new type of tactical guided weapon, which was test-fired in April. It stated that the short-range missiles have "great significance in enhancing the efficiency in the operation of tactical nukes.” It could mean that the North, in actual fact, has become capable of threatening the South with tactical weapons.
This is a huge threat in that the North fundamentally changes the military landscapes of the Korean Peninsula. By emphasizing its tactical weapons, the North is trying to overcome its inferiority to the South with regards to conventional weapons. It is only a matter of time before the regime decides to go ahead with the seventh nuclear test, which is expected to be a series of missile launches. Some analyzes that the important issue of strengthening the regime’s war deterrent could be approving the seventh nuclear test.
North Korea’s development and deployment attempt of tactical nuclear weapons are problematic because it clearly takes advantage of fears of a new Cold War. The U.S. has invited leaders of Asian countries including South Korea to the NATO summit, which will be held in Spain at the end of this month, to expand ways to keep the influence of China and Russia in check. The two countries have responded by expressing their solidarity among BRICS nations. With the 19 rounds of missile launches this year, North Korea keeps engaging in military provocations while the international community is busy with geopolitical tensions, being unable to even discuss imposing sanctions.
In order to respond to the North’s nuclear threats, South Korea and the U.S. are devising a new operational plan to replace Operational Plan 5015. However, this will take several years as they have to revise many areas ranging from changing threat analysis, military buildup, and restructuring. However, they need to speed up considering the North’s move. The two allies should resume meetings of the Extended Deterrence Strategy and Consultation Group (EDSCG) as soon as possible. If not, it won’t be easy to defend South Korea from ever-sophisticating nuclear capabilities of North Korea.