SEOUL: Kim Jong Un has called for an “exponential” increase in North Korea’s nuclear arsenal, including mass producing tactical nuclear weapons and developing new missiles for nuclear counterstrikes, state media said on Sunday.
In a report at the end of a key party meeting in Pyongyang, Kim said the country must “overwhelmingly beef up the military muscle” in 2023 in response to what he called US and South Korean hostility, the official KCNA reported.
Claiming that Washington and Seoul were set on “isolating and stifling” the North, Kim said his country would focus on the “mass-producing of tactical nuclear weapons” and develop “another ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile) system whose main mission is quick nuclear counterstrike”.
Military tensions on the Korean peninsula rose sharply in 2022 as the North conducted sanctions-busting weapons tests nearly every month, including firing its most advanced ICBM ever.
It capped the record-breaking year of launches by firing three short range ballistic missiles early on Saturday, and conducting another rare late-night launch at 2:50am (1750 GMT Saturday) on Sunday, Seoul’s military said.
The official KCNA reported on Sunday that the launches had been “a test-fire of the super-large multiple rocket launchers”.
In a separate KCNA report, Kim said the weapons put South Korea “as a whole within the range of strike and (were) capable of carrying (a) tactical nuclear warhead”.
North Korea was emphasising “the possibility of actual action”, said Yang Moo-jin, professor at Seoul’s University of North Korean Studies.
“North Korea is signalling a tactical shift of indirectly pressuring the United States by pressuring South Korea and escalating tensions on the Korean peninsula starting this year.” Seoul’s defence ministry called North Korea’s latest threats “provocative rhetoric that seriously damages the peace and stability on the Korean peninsula” and urged Pyongyang to immediately give up its nuclear programmes.
“We sternly warn that if North Korea attempts to use nuclear weapons, the Kim Jong Un regime will face an end,” the ministry added in a statement.
The launches come just days after Seoul scrambled fighter jets as five North Korean drones made an incursion into the South’s airspace on Monday.
Lim Eul-chul, a professor at Kyungnam University, said that the North’s latest statement indicated “they are preparing for the possibility of actual war beyond the collapse of inter-Korean relations”.
He warned that if the United States and South Korea responded, as was likely, by further ramping up military drills, tensions between the two Koreas would reach “an unprecedented level” in 2023.
Published in Dawn, January 2nd, 2023