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While this is the first time Kim Jong-un has alluded to having a physical means of launching his country’s nuclear weapons in his office — most likely to predetermined targets in the Northeast Asia and the continental United States — the fundamental nuclear command-and-control message from North Korea remains unchanged since 2013. That year, the Supreme People’s Assembly promulgated an ordinance on North Korea’s position as a “nuclear weapons state.” That ordinance, among other things, noted that “The nuclear weapons of the DPRK can be used only by a final order of the Supreme Commander of the Korean People’s Army to repel invasion or attack from a hostile nuclear weapons state and make retaliatory strikes.”
Whether or not Kim Jong-un has a physical button to authorize launch or not, it remains the case that North Korea’s nuclear weapons continue to see highly centralized and assertive command and control. (This may not be the case in a crisis, where Kim Jong-un may be forced to tolerate some level of predelegation to retain credible retaliatory capability.) Kim, nevertheless, appeared pleased with his arrangement: “The U.S. could never launch a military attack...
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