South Korea has once again referred to North Korea as “our enemy” in its latest defense white paper, after six years of diplomatic efforts to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula under the former administration of President Moon Jae-in. This change reflects the hardline stance of current President Yoon Suk-yeol, who took office in May 2021.
The South Korean Ministry of Defense released its biennial defense policy document on Thursday, which declared North Korea as the country’s enemy due to the North Korean regime’s labeling of South Korea as an “undoubted enemy” last year and ongoing military threats. This marks the first time South Korea has used the term “enemy” to describe North Korea since 2010, when 50 South Koreans were killed in attacks allegedly orchestrated by the North Korean regime.
The document also referred to the North Korean leader by his name, Kim Jong Un, and referred to Japan as South Korea’s “close neighbor,” a change from the term “neighboring country” used in the 2018 and 2020 defense papers. This aligns with Yoon’s goal to mend strained ties with Japan stemming from disputes over wartime issues.
In the paper, South Korea estimates that North Korea has 70 kilograms of plutonium, up from the previous report’s estimate of 50 kilograms, and that North Korea has a “considerable” amount of highly enriched uranium. Plutonium and highly enriched uranium are key materials used to build nuclear weapons. South Korean observers believe that North Korea’s plutonium stockpile increased as a result of operations at the country’s nuclear complex in Yongbyon, north of the capital Pyongyang.
North Korea fired an unprecedented number of missiles in 2022, one of which reportedly flew over Japan and triggered warnings to citizens to take shelter. In September 2022, North Korea approved a law allowing it to conduct a nuclear strike “automatically” against any “hostile forces” posing an imminent threat. Kim referred to the United States as North Korea’s “nuclear enemy state” while blaming South Korea for aggravating military tensions in the region due to its joint defense posture with Washington.
Yoon previously offered North Korea economic benefits in exchange for denuclearization steps, but the offer was rejected. Kim said there will be no denuclearization talks, negotiations, or “bargaining chips” in that process.