North Korea will increase its nuclear arsenal, Kim says at a military parade

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea will accelerate the development of its nuclear arsenal, leader Kim Jong Un said while overseeing a huge military parade displaying ICBMs and other weapons, state media reported on Tuesday.

The parade was held Monday night during celebrations marking the founding anniversary of North Korea’s armed forces, state news agency KCNA said. It comes as Pyongyang has stepped up weapons tests and demonstrations of military might amid stalled denuclearization talks with the United States and a new conservative government in South Korea.

US and South Korean officials say there are signs of new construction at North Korea’s only known nuclear test site, which has been officially closed since 2018, suggesting Pyongyang may be preparing to resume nuclear weapons testing.

Kim with his wife Ri Sol Ju during the parade celebrating the 90th anniversary of the North Korean Armed Forces.KCNA / via AP

“Our republic’s nuclear forces should be ready at all times to carry out their mission of responsibility and launch their unique deterrent,” Kim told the gathering, according to KCNA.

The basic mission of the North’s nuclear forces is to deter war, but their use “can never be confined to a single mission,” he added.

“If any forces try to harm our state’s fundamental interests, our nuclear forces must resolutely carry out their unexpected second mission,” Kim said.

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Hong Min, a senior fellow at the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul, said Kim’s speech could signal a change in his nuclear doctrine to leave open the possibility of “nuclear first use,” having previously narrowed the weapons’ purpose to deterrence and defense .

“Although he did not specify what constitutes ‘second mission’ or ‘fundamental interests,’ more generally he indicated that nuclear forces could be used preemptively not only when attacked but also under certain circumstances,” Hong said .

Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said Kim’s comments could have been aimed at the new government of newly-elected South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, who has warned of possible pre-emptive strikes as an attack from the north was imminent.

Military vehicles present ballistic missiles during the parade.
Military vehicles present ballistic missiles during the parade. AP

Yoon’s transition team, which takes office on May 10, has criticized Pyongyang for building menacing weapons while appearing to be holding talks.

“The parade proved that North Korea has outwardly called for peace and dialogue for the past five years, but in reality has focused on developing means to threaten not only the Korean Peninsula but also Northeast Asia and world peace,” he said deputy spokesman Won Il-er said a briefing.

“Ensuring the ability to deter North Korea’s serious and real threat is the most urgent task,” Won added, pledging to strengthen the US alliance and speed up weapons development to boost Seoul’s deterrence.

The parade featured North Korea’s largest known ICBM, the Hwasong-17, KCNA reported. The massive missile was tested for the first time last month, but officials in South Korea believe efforts to complete a full test ended in a blast over Pyongyang.

North Korean newspaper Rodong Sinmun published photos showing the Hwasong-17, as well as what appear to be hypersonic missiles and ballistic missiles launched from submarines, among other weapons on trucks and launchers, rolling past a crowd of flag-waving observers and participants.

The procession also included rows of conventional weapons such as artillery, rocket launchers and prototype tanks, as well as tens of thousands of troops goose-stepping and shouting “long life” to Kim Jong Un.

North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs are banned by United Nations Security Council resolutions that have imposed sanctions on the country.

At the last weapons test on April 16, Kim oversaw the launch of short-range missiles that state media said could deliver tactical nuclear weapons.

During a visit to Seoul last week, US envoy to North Korea Sung Kim said allies would “response responsibly and decisively to provocative behavior,” while underscoring his willingness to engage with North Korea “anywhere, without strings attached.”

North Korea has said it is open to diplomacy but has dismissed Washington’s overtures as disingenuous given what Pyongyang sees as “hostile policies” such as sanctions and military exercises with the south.

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