"A significant amount of damage could be sustained if we were to respond after a nuclear attack by North Korea, so we would have to hit North Korean targets as soon as clear signs of such an attack are detected," Kim said in a defense forum in Seoul.
"There is a controversy over the legitimacy of preemptive raids, but we should be allowed to do so if North Korea were to launch a nuclear strike," he said.
The remarks came just days after North Korea threatened to break off all dialogue and negotiations with South Korea, attacking Seoul for drawing up a new contingency plan to cope with possible internal instability, such as a regime collapse, in the reclusive state.
In a statement carried by the North's Korean Central News Agency, its National Defense Commission warned that it would initiate a "sacred retaliatory battle" against the South, cut off all dialogue and exclude it from all negotiations related to the security of the Korean Peninsula. The commission, headed by North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, is the highest ruling agency in the Stalinist state.
In regards to North Korea's increased military exercises in recent weeks, Defense Minister Kim said South Korea and the United States had mobilized their intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets to closely monitor nuclear or missile activities in the North.
"If the North makes a provocative move, we'll thwart it on the spot as we did in the recent naval skirmish near the West Sea border," Kim sad.
In November, a firefight between the navies of the two Koreas occurred near the Northern Limit Line (NLL), the de facto sea border. A North Korean sailor was reportedly killed and three others wounded in the skirmish, while there were no South Korean casualties.
It was the third naval confrontation between the two countries following ones in 1999 and 2002.
As for conservatives' demand for a readjustment of the timeline for the transition of wartime operational control from the United States to South Korea scheduled for 2012, the minister said both militaries have been fully preparing for the transition.
Kim said even if the security conditions will be bad in 2012, the South Korean military will make best efforts to exercise independent wartime operational control of its armed forces as agreed.
But he added that the leaders of the two allies could discuss readjustment of the timeline, if required.
Under the 2007 agreement on command arrangements, the ROK-U.S. Combined Forces Command will be disbanded and both militaries will instead establish separate theater commands here.
Source: The Korea Times