In a speech made at a military parade that displayed strong weapons systems targeting the United States and its allies, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un promised to bolster his nuclear capabilities at “maximum speed” and warned to use them if provoked, state media reported Tuesday.
His comments imply that he will pursue provocative weapons tests in an effort to compel concessions from the US and other adversaries. The parade, held Monday night to commemorate the 90th anniversary of North Korea’s army — the backbone of the Kim family’s dictatorial leadership — comes as the country’s economy struggles due to pandemic-related problems, as well as U.S.-led sanctions and its own mismanagement.
Kim, clad in a white military ceremonial coat, smiled and waved from a balcony with his wife Ri Sol Ju and other senior officials, according to state media photographs.
According to the official Korean Central News Agency, Kim addressed his troops and the public assembled for the parade in a Pyongyang plaza, “We will continue to undertake measures aimed at strengthening and growing our country’s nuclear capabilities at the utmost pace.”
“Our nuclear forces’ core goal is to discourage war,” Kim added, “but if an adverse circumstance arises on our soil, our nuclear forces cannot be restricted to a sole objective of avoiding war.” “If any forces, no matter who they are, attempt to encroach on our core interests, our nuclear forces will have no option but to carry out their unanticipated second mission.”
Marching troops yelled “hurrah!” as a variety of contemporary weaponry were shown, including missiles capable of reaching the US heartland as well as shorter-range missiles that can be fired from land vehicles or submarines and threaten South Korea and Japan.
The Hwasong-17, North Korea’s largest, freshly developed intercontinental ballistic missile, was one of the armaments on display in the brightly lighted Kim Il Sung Square, named for Kim’s late grandfather and state founder.
North Korea claimed to have successfully test-fired the missile last month, marking the country’s first full-range ICBM launch in almost four years. South Korea rejected this, claiming that after the Hwasong-17 failed to launch, North Korea tested a smaller, existing Hwasong-15 ICBM. Despite the suspicions of the outside world, the missile launched on March 24 flew longer and higher than any prior North Korean missile, displaying a possible capacity to strike deep into the United States mainland.
KCNA said that onlookers at the parade erupted in applause when they saw the Hwasong-17, which it claimed demonstrated “the ultimate force of Juche (self-reliance), Korea, and our republic’s strategic position in the world.”
North Korea frequently marks important state anniversaries with great pomp in order to promote internal unification. Kim was hailed by KCNA on Tuesday for achieving “the historic great cause of completing the nuclear forces by undertaking a lengthy journey of patriotic devotion with a death-defying will to ensure that the people would eternally enjoy bliss free from the horrors of conflict generation after generation.”
Kim has also resurrected nuclear brinkmanship in an attempt to persuade the US to recognize North Korea as a nuclear state and lift severe economic sanctions. North Korea, according to analysts, is taking advantage of a favorable atmosphere to advance its weapons development, while the United Nations Security Council remains divided over Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Disagreements over the potential lifting of US-led sanctions in exchange for North Korean disarmament steps have halted nuclear talks between Washington and Pyongyang since 2019. In the face of international criticism, Kim has remained committed to his aims of concurrently building nuclear weapons and improving the country’s poor economy, and has shown no readiness to totally abandon a nuclear arsenal that he regards as his best chance of survival.
This year, North Korea has carried out 13 rounds of weapons tests, including the alleged launch of the Hwasong-19. There are also indicators that North Korea is reopening tunnels at a nuclear test site that was shut down in 2017, presumably in preparation for a nuclear test.
After a flurry of nuclear and missile tests, North Korea declared in 2017 that it has developed the capability to deliver nuclear attacks on the US mainland. Before entering the now-dormant negotiations with the US, the North had put an end to such high-profile testing.
As nuclear talks with the US languished, the North spent much of the last three years working on building its short-range arsenal aimed at South Korea.
Domestic politics may also be driving Kim’s strong military drive, since he lacks meaningful victories to show his people as he approaches a decade in power. He failed to get much-needed sanctions relief from then-President Donald Trump’s diplomacy, and the COVID-19 outbreak wreaked more havoc on the country’s already-fragmented economy, prompting him to admit last year that North Korea was in its “worst-ever predicament.”