Leader Kim Jong Un called for an “exponential increase in North Korea’s nuclear arsenal” to deal with its southern neighbor and the United States, signaling the continuation in 2023 of dangerous tensions on the Korean peninsula that had already characterized 2022. At the end of a major meeting in Pyongyang, the ruling Workers’ Party also announced that the country would “develop a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) system whose main mission will be a rapid counterattack nuclear,” the official KCNA news agency reported on Sunday.
Tensions between neighbors
“The current situation calls for redoubled efforts to massively build up military strength to fully guarantee (North Korea’s) sovereignty, security and core interests in response to disturbing military maneuvers by the United States and other hostile forces,” Kim Jong Un said in a Party meeting report quoted by the agency.
“This underscores the importance and necessity of mass production of tactical nuclear weapons and calls for an exponential increase in the country’s nuclear arsenal,” he continued. In another dispatch, KNCA reported comments by Kim Jong Un that South Korea was now “fully within range of” North Korean nuclear strikes.
Tension has risen dramatically in recent months between North Korea and its southern neighbor as well as the United States and Japan. The year 2022 has seen a record number of missile launches by Pyongyang. Three short-range ballistic missiles were fired by North Korea again on Saturday, and another on Sunday at dawn. KCNA referred to “a very large multiple rocket launcher firing exercise”.
And on December 26, five North Korean drones entered southern airspace, even flying over the northern capital Seoul. Despite the deployment of fighter jets and helicopters for five hours, the southern army was unable to shoot down the drones during this incursion, the first of its kind in five years.
“Let’s play with nuclear weapons”
For Lim Eul-chul, a professor at Kyungman University, Kim Jong Un’s new statements indicate that North Korea is “preparing for the possibility of real war after the current collapse of inter-Korean relations”.
If, as is likely, South Korea and its American ally respond with an increase in their joint military maneuvers, tensions between the two Koreas will reach “an unprecedented level” in 2023, he warns. “It is reasonable to predict that the Korean Peninsula could become a second Ukraine if the situation is badly managed”, adds this analyst.
This is not the first time that North Korea has announced the mass production of atomic bombs, said Go Myong-hyun, a researcher at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies. “The intention is that if North Korea produces nuclear weapons en masse, even without engaging in aggressive provocations, the United States will have no choice but to one day recognize North Korea as a state. nuclear,” the analyst told AFP.
“Kim Jong Un’s New Year’s message is something like: let’s play with nuclear weapons,” he continued. According to him, the North Korean leader is trying to show that “North Korea will not beg for dialogue and that it will put pressure on South Korea and the United States, especially the United States, by strengthening its nuclear power. “.
Kim Jong Un had already said at the end of November that he wanted to endow his country with “the most powerful strategic force in the world”. Two months earlier, North Korea had adopted a new doctrine making its status as a nuclear power “irreversible”, and authorizing it to carry out a preventive atomic strike in the event of an existential threat against its regime.
Seoul and Washington lend Pyongyang the intention to carry out another nuclear test soon, which would be the seventh in its history and the first since 2017. North Korean leaders say that a credible nuclear deterrent is essential to the survival of their country , who says he is constantly threatened with aggression by the United States.
For Leif-Eric Easley, professor at Ewha University in Seoul, the recent gestures of hostility from Pyongyang, “could be intended to scare South Korea into adopting a more moderate policy”. But according to him, they risk producing the opposite effect and pushing Seoul to reinforce its military means. “If China does not want regional instability caused by an inter-Korean arms race on its doorstep, it will have to do more to contain Pyongyang in 2023,” Easley said.