In a speech given during a military parade, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un pledged to further develop his nuclear forces “at the fastest possible speed” and use them if provoked. His remarks suggest that he will continue with provocative weapons tests to put pressure on the US and other rivals. The parade marked the 90th anniversary of North Korea’s army, and its display of powerful weapons systems was aimed at the US and its allies. This occurred when the country is facing an economy battered by pandemic-related difficulties, punishing US-led sanctions, and its own mismanagement.
Nuclear Development and Preparedness
Kim Jong Un repeated earlier messages that North Korea could use its nuclear weapons pre-emptively when threatened by attacks. He called for his nuclear forces to be fully prepared to go “in motion at any time.” The fundamental mission of North Korea’s nuclear forces is to deter war, but Kim added that their nukes cannot be confined to a single mission of war deterrent, especially when the situation is unfavorable. He threatened that if any forces try to violate North Korea’s interests, their nuclear forces will have to decisively accomplish their unexpected second mission, which would leave any invading force “perished.”
The military parade featured an array of modern weapons, including missiles potentially capable of reaching the US mainland, as well as shorter-range missiles that can be fired from land vehicles or submarines, threatening South Korea and Japan. One of the weapons showcased at the parade was North Korea’s biggest, newly built intercontinental ballistic missile, the Hwasong-17, which the country claims to have test-fired last month in its first full-range ICBM liftoff in more than four years. Although South Korea disputes this, analysts agree that the missile’s firing on March 24 demonstrated North Korea’s potential ability to reach deep into the US mainland.
North Korea often commemorates key state anniversaries with huge fanfare to boost internal unity. Tuesday’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) dispatch praised Kim for accomplishing “the historic great cause of completing the nuclear forces by making a long journey of patriotic devotion with a death-defying will in order to make sure that the people would eternally enjoy happiness free from the horrors of war generation after generation.”
Despite international pressure, North Korea has shown no willingness to fully surrender its nuclear arsenal, which it sees as its biggest guarantee of survival. Kim Jong Un’s comments about the possible use of nuclear weapons and his decision to show up at the parade in a military coat, rather than his regular suit and tie, indicate his tough approach towards South Korea’s incoming conservative government. President-elect Yoon Suk Yeol, who takes office on May 10, has criticized Moon’s inter-Korean engagement policies and has vowed to strengthen South Korea’s defense in conjunction with its alliance with the US, which he says would include enhancing preemptive strike capabilities. North Korea has conducted 13 rounds of weapons tests this year, and there are signs that the country is rebuilding tunnels at a nuclear testing ground that was last active in 2017, possibly in preparation for exploding a nuclear device.