North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has vowed to bolster his nuclear forces at “maximum speed” – and threatened to use them.
During a military parade that featured a long-range missile and other weapons, he made a speech to troops, telling them and the nation: “We will continue to implement measures aimed at strengthening and developing our country’s nuclear forces at the maximum speed.”
His remarks, in front of a gathered crowd at Pyongyang plaza, suggest he will continue provocative weapons tests in a bid to pressure concessions from the US and other rivals.
The parade was to mark the 90th anniversary of North Korea’s army – the backbone of the Kim family’s authoritarian rule – and comes as the country faces pandemic-related difficulties while seeking relief from US-led sanctions imposed over its nuclear ambitions.
“The fundamental mission of our nuclear forces is to deter war, but if an undesirable situation emerges on our land, our nuclear forces cannot be limited to a single mission of preventing war,” Kim said.
“If any forces, regardless of who they are, try to infringe upon our fundamental interests, our nuclear forces will have no choice but to absolutely carry out its unexpected second mission.”
The parade featured marching troops and an array of modern weapons including a missile potentially capable of reaching the US as well as tanks, armoured vehicles, artillery pieces and multiple rocket launchers, according to the official Korean Central News Agency.
No willingness to surrender
Kim in recent months has been reviving nuclear brinkmanship aimed at forcing the United States to accept North Korea as a nuclear power and to remove crippling economic sanctions.
Nuclear negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang have been stalled since 2019 because of disagreements over the potential easing of US-led sanctions in exchange for North Korean disarmament steps.
Analysts say North Korea is exploiting a favourable environment to push forward its weapons programme as the UN Security Council remains divided over Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Kim has stuck to his goal of developing nuclear weapons and has shown no willingness to fully surrender a nuclear arsenal he sees as his biggest guarantee of survival.
North Korea has conducted 13 rounds of weapons tests this year, including its first flight test of an intercontinental ballistic missile since 2017.
There are also signs North Korea is rebuilding tunnels at a nuclear testing ground that was last active in 2017, possibly in preparation for exploding a nuclear device.
On Monday, official newspapers in North Korea ran editorials calling for stronger public support of Kim.
“The respected Comrade Kim Jong Un is the symbol of the mightiness of our party, state and revolutionary armed forces and the representative of their great dignity,” the main Rodong Sinmun newspaper said.
“All happiness and rosy future lie in following the respected General Secretary Kim Jong Un.”
North Korea’s recently tested weapons are potentially capable of striking America as well as South Korea and Japan.
Kim may also be attempting to show bravado following failure to win badly-needed sanctions relief from his diplomatic meeting with former US President Donald Trump and from further damage to the country’ economy from the COVID-19 pandemic.