SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA (AP) – North Korean leader Kim Jong-un ordered the “exponential” expansion of his country’s nuclear arsenal and the development of a more powerful intercontinental ballistic missile, state media reported yesterday, after he entered 2023 with another weapons launch following a record number of testing activities last year.
Kim’s moves are in line with the broad direction of his nuclear programme. He has repeatedly vowed to boost both the quality and quantity of his arsenal to cope with what he calls United States (US) hostility.
Some experts said Kim’s push to produce more nuclear and other weapons signals his intention to continue a run of weapons tests and ultimately solidify his future negotiating power and win greater outside concessions.
“They are now keen on isolating and stifling (North Korea), unprecedented in human history,” Kim said at a recently ended key ruling party meeting, according to the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
“The prevailing situation calls for making redoubled efforts to overwhelmingly beef up the military muscle.”
During the six-day meeting meant to determine new state objectives, Kim called for “an exponential increase of the country’s nuclear arsenal” to mass produce battlefield tactical nuclear weapons targetting South Korea.
He also presented a task to develop a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) missioned with a “quick nuclear counterstrike” capability – a weapon he needs to strike the mainland US.
He said the North’s first military reconnaissance satellite will be launched “at the earliest date possible”, KCNA said.
“Kim’s comments from the party meeting reads like an ambitious – but perhaps achievable – New Year’s resolution list,” said a security analyst at the California-based RAND Corporation Soo Kim.
“It’s ambitious in that Kim consciously chose to spell out what he hopes to accomplish as we head into 2023, but it also suggests a dose of confidence on Kim’s part.”
Last month, North Korea claimed to have performed key tests needed for the development of a new strategic weapon, a likely reference to a solid-fuelled ICBM, and a spy satellite.
Kim’s identification of South Korea as an enemy and the mention of hostile US and South Korean policies is “a reliable pretext for the regime to produce more missiles and weapons to solidify Kim’s negotiating position and concretise North Korea’s status as a nuclear weapons power”, Soo Kim said.
Later yesterday, South Korea’s Defence Ministry reiterated a warning that any attempt to use nuclear weapons by North Korea “will lead to the end of the Kim Jong-un government”.
The US military has previously made similar warnings.
“The new year started but our security situation is still very grave,” South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol told top military officers during a video conference.