State media reported that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un called for an “exponential increase” in the number of nuclear warheads in his country and the creation of a more powerful intercontinental ballistic missile on Sunday. This came as the east Asian nation tested a ballistic missile in the early hours of the new year, continuing a pattern that saw a record number of testing activities in 2022.
The overall direction that Kim’s nuclear program is taking is reflected in his actions. In an effort to combat what he refers to as “U.S. hostility,” he has repeatedly pledged to increase both the quantity and quality of his arsenal. According to some experts, Kim’s push to produce more nuclear and other weapons shows that he intends to carry out a series of weapons tests in the future to increase his negotiating power and win more concessions from outside parties.
“Now they want to isolate and stifle North Korea in a way that has never been done before in human history.” According to the official Korean Central News Agency, Kim stated that “the prevailing situation calls for making redoubled efforts to overwhelmingly beef up the military muscle” at a recent key ruling party meeting.
Kim called for “an exponential increase of the country’s nuclear arsenal” to mass produce tactical battlefield nuclear weapons targeting South Korea during the six-day meeting meant to determine new state objectives. He also gave the task of developing a new ICBM with the capability of “quick nuclear counterstrike,” a weapon he wanted to use to attack the United States’ mainland. According to KCNA, he stated that the initial military reconnaissance satellite for the North will be launched “at the earliest date possible.”
“Kim’s remarks from the party meeting read like a list of ambitious but possibly doable resolutions for the new year. According to Soo Kim, a security analyst at the RAND Corporation in California, “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.”
In a likely reference to a solid-fueled intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and a spy satellite last month, North Korea claimed to have carried out crucial tests necessary for the creation of a new strategic weapon.
According to Soo Kim, “Kim’s identification of South Korea as an enemy and the mention of hostile U.S. and South Korean policies is a reliable pretext for the regime to produce more missiles and weapons to solidify Kim’s negotiating position and concretize North Korea’s status as a nuclear power.”
Later on Sunday, South Korea’s Safeguard Service repeated an admonition that any endeavor to utilize atomic weapons by North Korea “will prompt the finish of the Kim Jong Un system.” Similar warnings have previously been issued by the American military.
“While the new year has begun, our security situation remains extremely grave. In a video conference, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol instructed senior military officers that “our military must resolutely punish any provocation by the enemy with a firm determination that we dare to risk fighting a battle.”
In a telephone conversation, senior diplomats from South Korea, the United States, and Japan agreed that North Korea’s provocations would only serve to deepen its isolation from the rest of the world and prompt their trilateral security cooperation. According to the South Korean Foreign Ministry, they reaffirmed that dialogue with North Korea is still possible.
Kim Jong Un has taken steps to increase his arsenal since his high-stakes summit with then-President Donald Trump in 2019 ended in failure as a result of disagreements regarding sanctions imposed by the United States. According to some observers, Kim would eventually want to establish North Korea as a legitimate nuclear power in order to win the lifting of international sanctions and put an end to the regular military drills between the United States and South Korea, which he considers to be major security threats.
An expert with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Ankit Panda, stated, “It was during his 2018 New Year’s speech that (Kim) ordered the mass production of warheads and ballistic missiles, and he’s doubling down on that quantitative expansion goal in the coming year.” Panda said the reference to another ICBM seems to concern a strong fuel framework, which could be tried soon. He stated that a satellite launch might take place in April, which is also the month of a significant state anniversary.
Since the North approved a new law last year that allowed the preemptive use of nuclear weapons in a wide range of situations and openly threatened to use its nuclear weapons first, concerns about North Korea’s nuclear program have grown. Kim reiterated that threat at the party meeting the week before.
A short-range ballistic missile fired from the capital region of the North was detected earlier on Sunday by the military of South Korea. It claimed that the weapon had traveled approximately 250 miles (400 kilometers) before landing in waters between Japan and the Korean Peninsula. According to the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, the United States’ commitments to defend Japan and South Korea “remain ironclad.”
Last year, North Korea conducted tests on more than 70 missiles, including three short-range ballistic missiles that South Korea discovered on Saturday. The country’s expanding nuclear program may have encouraged the testing spree. China and Russia have prevented the United States and others from enforcing U.N. sanctions at the Security Council, according to observers, allowing the North to continue its banned missile tests.
The country’s super-large multiple rocket launcher was tested on Saturday and Sunday, the KCNA confirmed on Sunday. According to KCNA, Kim Jong Un claimed that the rocket launcher could carry a tactical nuclear warhead and placed all of South Korea within striking distance.
“Its most recent missile launches lacked technical impact. Instead, “North Korea could launch different types of attacks anytime, from many directions,” according to Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul. “The high volume of tests at unusual times and from various locations demonstrate that.”
Since early last week, when South Korea accused North Korea of flying drones across their heavily fortified border for the first time in five years, tensions between the two Koreas have gotten worse. In response, South Korea sent its own drones toward North Korea.