North Korean leader Kim Jong Un warned South Korea that he won't hesitate to preemptively use nuclear weapons if threatened, according to the Associated Press.
During a meeting to congratulate his top army officials for a massive military parade in Pyongyang last week, Kim expressed "firm will" to continue his nuclear program so that it could "preemptively and thoroughly contain and frustrate all dangerous attempts and threatening moves, including ever-escalating nuclear threats from hostile forces, if necessary," North Korea's Central News Agency said Saturday.
KCNA said Kim called his military officials to praise their work during the April 25 parade, where the North showcased the biggest weapons in its nuclear arsenal, including intercontinental ballistic missiles that could potentially reach the U.S. homeland. The North also rolled out a variety of shorter-range solid-fuel missiles designed to be fired from land vehicles or submarines, which pose a growing threat to South Korea and Japan. -AP
Kim also told thousands of troops and spectators gathered for the parade that he would continue developing nuclear weapons at the "fastest possible speed," adding that his arsenal would "never be confined to the single mission of war deterrent" when the North faces external threats to its "fundamental interests."
Kim's threats come as South Korea ushers in a new conservative government in May that could strike a harsher tone than outgoing liberal President Moon Jae-in.
North Korea has conducted 13 weapons launches so far this year, including its first full-range test of an ICBM since former US President Donald Trump de-escalated tensions.
Meanwhile, North Korea appears to be rebuilding tunnels surrounding a nuclear testing ground that was last active in 2017, which AP's anonymous experts suggest could mean that Kim will try to conduct new tests sometime between the South's inauguration of President-elect Yoon Suk Yeol on May 10, and Yoon's scheduled summit with US President Joe Biden on May 21, "to maximize its political effect."
According to US State Department deputy spokesperson Jalina Porter, "We urge the DPRK to refrain from further destabilizing activity and instead engage in serious and sustained dialogue."
Kim’s recent remarks followed a fiery statement released by his powerful sister earlier April in which she criticized South Korea’s defense minister for touting preemptive strike capabilities against the North. She said her country’s nuclear forces would annihilate the South’s conventional forces if provoked.
Yoon, during his campaign, also talked about enhancing the South’s preemptive strike capabilities and missile defenses. He also vowed to strengthen South Korea’s defense in conjunction with its alliance with the United States. -AP
Since 2019, North Korea has been expanding its arsenal of short-range solid-fuel missiles, which Kim's regime has described as "tactical" - suggesting battlefield nukes that could be used during conventional warfare.
"Taken together with ambitions for tactical nuclear warheads, submarine-based launch capabilities, and more sophisticated ICBMs, Pyongyang is not simply 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," said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor of international studies at Seoul’s Ewha Womans University.