The South Korean government reported Tuesday that a high-ranking North Korean defector has asserted the Stalinist nation possesses nuclear weapons and would not hesitate to use them to turn South Korea and Japan into a “sea of fire.”
“North Korea is capable of scorching South Korea with nuclear weapons, chemical weapons and rockets,” Hwang Jang Yop reportedly wrote last year, in comments published Tuesday in the Chosun Ilbo newspaper and confirmed by the government here. “North Korea believes that if there were a war, it would certainly win, and if the United States intervenes, it can reduce the United States and Japan to ashes.”
Many observers in South Korea expressed concern over the reported revelations by Hwang, the most senior North Korean to defect and a potential bonanza of information on the hermetically closed society.
North Korea’s nuclear capabilities are a mystery. It denies it has nuclear weapons. The United States believes North Korea had been striving to produce enough plutonium for a nuclear bomb by 1995 and as many as 30 bombs a year by the end of the decade.
If Hwang’s comments are true, they are cause for deep concern. For decades, North Korea has threatened to reunify the divided Korean Peninsula by force. Nuclear weapons in the hands of its leaders could threaten millions of lives and involve the United States, which has 37,000 troops in South Korea.