Kim warns North Korea could use nukes ‘preventively’

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has again warned that the North could use its nuclear weapons preemptively if threatened, as he praised his top military officials for a massive military parade in the capital, Pyongyang, this week.

Kim expressed his “strong will” to continue to develop his nuclear army so that it can “preemptively and comprehensively contain and thwart all dangerous attempts and threatening movements, including ever-increasing nuclear threats from hostile forces, if necessary,” the North Korean official said. The Central News Agency said on Saturday.

KCNA said Kim called his military officials to salute their work at Monday’s parade, where the North displayed the biggest weapons in its nuclear arsenal, including intercontinental ballistic missiles that could potentially reach the American homeland. The North has also deployed a variety of shorter-range solid-fuel missiles designed to be fired from ground vehicles or submarines, which pose a growing threat to South Korea and Japan.

KCNA did not say when Kim’s meeting with senior military officials took place.

The parade marking the 90th anniversary of North Korea’s military came as Kim revived nuclear policy aimed at forcing the United States to accept the idea of ​​his country as a nuclear power and remove crippling economic sanctions .

Addressing thousands of soldiers and spectators mobilized for the parade, Kim vowed to develop his nuclear forces at the “fastest possible speed” and threatened to use them if provoked. He said his nuclear weapons would “never be confined to the sole mission of deterrence of war” in situations where the North faces threats outside its “fundamental interests”.

Kim’s comments suggested he would pursue a provocative run in weapons testing to increase pressure on Washington and Seoul. South Korea will inaugurate a new conservative government in May that may take a tougher line on Pyongyang following incumbent liberal President Moon Jae-in’s engagement policies that have produced few results.

Kim’s threat to use his nuclear forces to protect his country’s ambiguously defined “fundamental interests” may portend an escalation in nuclear doctrine that could further worry South Korea, Japan and the US. United States.experts say.

North Korea has carried out 13 rounds of weapons launches so far this year, including its first full test of an ICBM since 2017, as Kim exploits an enabling environment to advance its weapons program as the UN Security Council remains divided and effectively paralyzed. Russia’s war in Ukraine.

There are also signs that North Korea is rebuilding tunnels at a nuclear testing ground that was last active in 2017. Some experts say the North may try to conduct a new test between the inauguration of the South Korean President-elect Yoon Suk Yeol on May 10. and his planned summit with US President Joe Biden on May 21 to maximize his political effect.

US State Department deputy spokeswoman Jalina Porter said the United States was aware of reports that North Korea may be preparing to conduct a nuclear test, which she said would be deeply destabilizing for the region and would undermine the global non-proliferation regime,

“We urge the DPRK to refrain from any destabilizing activity and instead engage in serious and sustained dialogue,” she said, referring to North Korea by its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic. from Korea.

Kim’s recent remarks followed a fiery statement released by her powerful sister earlier this month in which she lambasted South Korea’s defense minister for touting preemptive strike capabilities against the North. She said her country’s nuclear forces would annihilate conventional forces in the South if provoked.

Yoon, during his campaign, has also talked about bolstering the South’s preemptive strike capabilities and missile defenses. He also pledged to strengthen South Korea’s defense alongside its alliance with the United States.

While Kim’s collection of ICBMs has attracted a lot of international attention, North Korea since 2019 has also expanded its arsenal of short-range solid-fuel missiles threatening South Korea.

The North describes some of these missiles as “tactical” weapons, which experts say communicate a threat to arm them with smaller nuclear bombs on the battlefield and use them proactively in conventional warfare to blunt stronger conventional forces from South Korea and the United States. About 28,500 American soldiers are stationed in the South.

North Korea could use its upcoming nuclear test to claim that it has acquired the ability to build a small nuclear warhead to fit these missiles or other weapons it has recently tested, including a purported hypersonic missile and a long-range cruise missile, analysts say. Smaller warheads would also be needed for the northern pursuit of a multiple-warhead ICBM.

“Solid-fuel missiles are easier to hide, move and launch quickly, making them less vulnerable to a preemptive strike,” said Leif-Eric Easley, professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul.

“Combined with ambitions for tactical nuclear warheads, submarine-based launch capabilities and more sophisticated ICBMs, Pyongyang is not just looking to deter an attack. Its goals extend to outrunning South Korea in an arms race and coercing the United States to reduce sanctions enforcement and security cooperation with Seoul,” Easley added.

Nuclear talks between Washington and Pyongyang have stalled since 2019 over disagreements over a possible easing of US sanctions in exchange for North Korean disarmament measures.

Kim has stuck to his goals of simultaneously developing nuclear weapons and the country’s abysmal economy in the face of international pressure and has shown no willingness to completely give up a nuclear arsenal he sees as his greatest guarantee. of survival.

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