North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Sunday called for an “exponential increase” in his country’s number of nuclear warheads and the development of a more powerful intercontinental ballistic missile, state media said, as the East Asian nation tested a ballistic missile towards the sea east of the Korean Peninsula in the early hours of the new year. continuing the trend when a record number of tests were conducted in 2022.
Kim’s actions are in line with the overall direction of his nuclear program. He has repeatedly vowed to increase both the quality and quantity of his arsenal to deal with what he calls “US hostility.” Some experts say that Kim’s drive to produce more nuclear and other weapons signals his intention to continue the series of weapons tests and eventually shore up his future negotiating position and secure greater foreign concessions.
“They are now seeking to isolate and stifle (North Korea) in a manner unprecedented in human history. The current situation requires redoubled efforts to overwhelmingly build up military power,” Kim said at a recently concluded key meeting of the ruling party. This is reported by the official Central News Agency of Korea.
During a six-day meeting to set new state targets, Kim called for “an exponential increase in the country’s nuclear arsenal” to mass-produce tactical nuclear weapons on the battlefield aimed at South Korea. He also set the task of developing a new intercontinental ballistic missile with “rapid nuclear counterstrike” capability, a weapon he would like to use to strike the US mainland. He said the North’s first military reconnaissance satellite would be launched “as soon as possible,” according to the KCNA.
“Kim’s comments at the party caucus read like an ambitious — but perhaps achievable — list of New Year resolutions. Ambitious in the sense that Kim has consciously chosen to lay out what he hopes to accomplish as we approach 2023, but it also suggests a dose of confidence. from Kim’s side,” said Soo Kim, a security analyst at the California-based RAND Corporation.
Last month, North Korea said it had conducted key tests needed to develop a new strategic weapon, likely referring to a solid-fueled ICBM and spy satellite.
“Kim’s identification of South Korea as an enemy and mention of the hostile policies of the US and South Korea is a credible pretext for the regime to produce more missiles and weapons to bolster Kim’s negotiating position and concretize North Korea’s status as a nuclear power,” Su Kim. said.
Later on Sunday, South Korea’s defense ministry repeated the warning that any attempt by North Korea to use nuclear weapons would “lead to the end of the Kim Jong-un regime.” The US military has issued similar warnings in the past.
“The new year has begun, but our security situation is still very serious. Our military must resolutely punish any provocation from the enemy with the firm determination that we dare to risk fighting,” South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol said during a speech to senior military officials. video conference.
Senior diplomats from South Korea, the US and Japan spoke by phone and agreed that North Korea’s provocations would only deepen its international isolation and push for their triangular security cooperation. According to the South Korean Foreign Ministry, they still confirmed that the door to dialogue with North Korea remains open.
After his high-stakes summit with then-President Donald Trump collapsed in 2019 over US-led sanctions wrangling, Kim Jong Un refused to return to talks with Washington and took steps to bolster his arsenal. Some observers say Kim will eventually want to make North Korea a legitimate nuclear power in order to secure the lifting of international sanctions and end regular US-South Korean military exercises, which he considers a major security threat.
“It was during his 2018 New Year’s speech that (Kim) first ordered the mass production of warheads and ballistic missiles, and he will double that goal of quantitative expansion in the coming year,” said Ankit Panda, an expert at the Carnegie Endowment. International world. Panda said the reference to the new intercontinental ballistic missile appears to be for a solid propellant system that could soon be tested. He said that the launch of the satellite could take place in April, the month of an important national anniversary.
Concerns about North Korea’s nuclear program have risen since North Korea approved a new law last year that allows the preemptive use of nuclear weapons in a wide range of situations and openly threatens to be the first to use its nuclear weapons. During a party meeting last week, Kim repeated the threat.
Earlier Sunday, the South Korean military detected a short-range ballistic missile launched from the North Korean capital region. It says the weapons traveled about 400 kilometers (250 miles) before landing in the waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan. The US Indo-Pacific Command said US commitments to protect South Korea and Japan “remain unbreakable.”
North Korea tested more than 70 missiles last year, including three short-range ballistic missiles detected by South Korea on Saturday. The mass tests indicate that the country is likely excited about its nuclear program. Observers say the North was also able to continue its banned missile tests because China and Russia blocked the US and other countries from tightening UN sanctions at the Security Council.
The KCNA confirmed on Sunday that the country had conducted test launches of its ultra-large multiple launch rocket system on Saturday and Sunday. Kim Jong Un said the missile launcher puts all of South Korea in the kill zone and is capable of carrying a tactical nuclear warhead, according to the KCNA.
“Recent rocket launches have not been technically impressive. Instead, a large volume of testing at unusual times and from different places demonstrates that North Korea can launch various types of attacks at any time and from many directions,” said Leif-Erik Isley, professor. at Ewha University in Seoul.
Hostilities between the rival Koreas have escalated since early last week, when South Korea accused North Korea for the first time in five years of launching drones across their heavily fortified border and sent its own drones towards the North in response.