The US and South Korea would “end” Kim Jong Un’s reign over North Korea should he choose to launch a nuclear weapon, defense leaders from Washington and Seoul agreed Thursday at the Pentagon.
“[Defense] Secretary [Lloyd] Austin and I affirm that any nuclear attack by [North Korea] … is unacceptable and will result in the end of Kim Jong Un’s regime by the overwhelming and decisive response of the [US-South Korea] alliance,” Seoul Defense Minister Jong-Sup Lee told reporters.
Lee added the swift response would apply if North Korea launched even a “tactical nuclear weapon,” which carries a smaller payload and can travel much shorter distances.
“This is a strong warning against [North Korea],” he said.
Austin said the US is committed to deterring such a strike with “a full range of our nuclear, conventional and missile-defense capabilities.”
The leaders met hours after North Korea tested an intercontinental ballistic missile following a spate of more than 30 shorter-range missile tests since Oct. 28. The ICBM flew about 472 miles before plunging into the Sea of Japan.
In response, House Foreign Affairs Committee ranking member Michael McCaul (R-Texas) on Thursday called for the White House to get tough on Pyongyang, saying Kim launched the missile by seizing on a “moment of opportunity by the Biden administration’s weakness on the world stage.”
“North Korea’s aggression will continue until the White House shows Kim Jong Un that nuclear and ICBM belligerence doesn’t pay,” the Texan wrote. “I strongly urge the administration to put forward a strategy that supports our allies, [South Korea] and Japan, and begins dealing with Kim from a position of strength.”
Austin called the ICBM launch “illegal and destabilizing,” and added the US and South Korea had decided to extend their joint military exercise “Vigilant Storm” in response. The exercise, which includes 240 aircraft and thousands of troops from the US and South Korea, was scheduled to end Friday.
Austin did not say when the new end date for the training would be.
The move gives Kim the opposite of what he wanted when he warned Tuesday of “powerful follow-up measures” in response to Vigilant Storm beginning a day earlier. He also threatened to make the US and South Korea “pay the most horrible price in history,” alluding to the use of nuclear weapons.
Seoul and Washington both have repeatedly warned that Pyongyang may soon be ready to test an atomic weapon for the first time since 2017. On Thursday, Lee said Pyongyang is “ready” to conduct nuclear tests at an underground facility in North Korea.
“When they will carry out the nuclear tests, that certainly is still curiosity as … North Korea will have to take into account the political purpose,” Lee said. “To exactly estimate when they will carry out the nuclear test is a difficulty for us.”