Korean Nuclear Jitters: Kim says Nukes for More than Deterrence Alone

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has pledged to speed up the development of his country’s nuclear arsenal after recently overseeing a massive military parade where powerful intercontinental ballistic missiles were on display.

According to the state news agency, the parade was a centerpiece of celebrations for the 90th anniversary of North Korea’s armed forces.

Recently, the government of North Korea has stepped up displays of military power and weapons testing. In contrast, denuclearization talks with the United States have ramped up, and a new conservative administration has taken power in South Korea.

South Korean and U.S. officials say there are new construction signs at North Korea’s only known nuclear test site. The site has officially been closed down since 2018, but signs point to Pyongyang preparing to resume testing nuclear weapons.

“The nuclear forces of our Republic should be fully prepared to fulfill their responsible mission and put their unique deterrent in motion at any time,” Chairman Kim told the gathering, according to North Korea’s state news media.

Kim said the fundamental mission of North Korea’s nuclear force was deterrence, but that their use “can never be confined to the single mission.”

Chairman Kim continued, “If any forces try to violate the fundamental interests of our state, our nuclear forces will have to decisively accomplish an unexpected second mission.”

North Korea weapons display

International observers believe Kim’s remarks could be aimed at the incoming South Korean president-elect Yoon Suk-yeol, who has already warned of possible pre-emptive strikes if it is believed an attack from North Korea is imminent.

Yoon will take office on May 10. His transition team has criticized the North Korean government for developing offensive weapons while attempting to appear engaged in pursuing talks.

“The parade proved that North Korea has outwardly called for peace and dialogue over the last five years, but in reality, it focused on developing the means to threaten not only the Korean peninsula but Northeast Asia and world peace,” said deputy spokesperson Won Il-hee at a briefing.

“Securing the capability to deter North Korea’s grave and real threat is the most urgent task,” he added, explaining that South Korea aims to bolster an alliance with the United States and expand its deterrence.

At North Korea’s military parade, a white suit-clad Kim shook hands and waved when North Korea’s largest Intercontinental Ballistic Missile, the Hwasong-17, appeared in the parade. Video of the event showed what appeared to be submarine-launched ballistic missiles and hypersonic missiles being carried on launch vehicles and trucks.

The procession also included conventional weapons, including prototype tanks and rocket launchers, and thousands of troops shouting, “Long life!” to Chairman Kim.

Under United Nations Security Council resolutions, North Korea is banned from developing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles and is also under economic sanctions.

‘Serious threat’

The Pentagon has said North Korea’s ballistic and nuclear programs were a serious threat to international security.

According to Lieutenant Colonel Marty Meiners, Pentagon spokesman, “We will focus on reducing the threat to the United States and our allies, as well as improving the lives of the North and South Korean people.”

U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price echoed Meiners’ statement at a press briefing, saying Kim’s statements reinforce “our assessment that DPRK (North Korea) constitutes a threat to international peace and security and to the global non-proliferation regime.”

When visiting Seoul last week, United States envoy on North Korea, Sung Kim, vowed to “respond responsibly and decisively to provocative behavior” while outlining his willingness to engage with North Korea “anywhere, without any conditions.”

North Korea has stated frequently it is open to diplomacy but has thus far rejected Washington’s overtures as insincere and criticized its policies as “hostile,” including joint military exercises and sanctions with the South.