N. Korea’s Kim vows to bolster nuke capability during parade

AP Photo/Jon Chol Jin
Citizens walk past celebrative posters displayed on the 90th founding anniversary of the Korean People’s Revolutionary Army in Pyongyang, North Korea, Monday, April 25, 2022. The poster reads “Historic root of our revolution”.

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un vowed to bolster his nuclear forces at “maximum speed” and threatened to use them if provoked in a speech he delivered during a military parade that featured a long-range missile and other weapons, state media reported Tuesday.

His remarks suggest he will continue provocative weapons tests in a pressure campaign to wrest concessions from the U.S. and other rivals. The parade Monday night was to mark the 90th anniversary of North Korea’s army — the backbone of the Kim family’s authoritarian rule — and comes as the country faces pandemic-related difficulties while seeking relief from U.S.-led sanctions imposed over its nuclear ambitions.

“We will continue to implement measures aimed at strengthening and developing our country’s nuclear forces at the maximum speed,” Kim told his troops and the crowd gathered for the parade at a Pyongyang plaza, according to the official Korean Central News Agency.

“The fundamental mission of our nuclear forces is to deter war, but if an undesirable situation emerges on our land, our nuclear forces cannot be limited to a single mission of preventing war,” Kim said. “If any forces, regardless of who they are, try to infringe upon our fundamental interests, our nuclear forces will have no choice but to absolutely carry out its unexpected second mission.”

The parade featured marching troops and an array of modern weapons including a missile potentially capable of reaching the U.S. homeland as well as tanks, armored vehicles, artillery pieces and multiple rocket launchers, according to KCNA.

Kim in recent months has been reviving nuclear brinkmanship aimed at forcing the United States to accept North Korea as a nuclear power and to remove crippling economic sanctions. Analysts say North Korea is exploiting a favorable environment to push forward its weapons program as the U.N. Security Council remains divided over Russia’s war in Ukraine. Nuclear negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang have been stalled since 2019 because of disagreements over the potential easing of U.S.-led sanctions in exchange for North Korean disarmament steps. Kim has stuck to his goals of simultaneously developing nuclear weapons and the country’s dismal economy in the face of international pressure and has shown no willingness to fully surrender a nuclear arsenal he sees as his biggest guarantee of survival. North Korea has conducted 13 rounds of weapons tests this year, including its first flight test of an intercontinental ballistic missile since 2017. There are also signs North Korea is rebuilding tunnels at a nuclear testing ground that was last active in 2017, possibly in preparation for exploding a nuclear device. On Monday, official newspapers in North Korea ran editorials calling for stronger public support of Kim.

“The respected Comrade Kim Jong Un is the symbol of the mightiness of our party, state and revolutionary armed forces and the representative of their great dignity,” the main Rodong Sinmun newspaper said. “All happiness and rosy future lie in following the respected General Secretary Kim Jong Un.”

North Korea’s recently tested weapons are potentially capable of striking the U.S. homeland as well as South Korea and Japan. The North has spent much of the past three years focusing on expanding its short-range arsenal targeting South Korea as nuclear negotiations with the United States stalled.

Kim’s aggressive military push could also be motivated by domestic politics since he doesn’t otherwise have significant accomplishments to show to his people as he marks a decade in power. He failed to win badly needed sanctions relief from his diplomacy with then-President Donald Trump, and the COVID-19 pandemic unleashed further shocks to the country’s broken economy, forcing him to acknowledge last year that North Korea was facing its “worst-ever situation.”