Seoul, South Korea – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has vowed to build up his nuclear forces at “maximum speed” and threatened to use them if provoked in a speech he gave at a military parade that featured powerful weapons systems targeting the United States and its allies, state media reported. Tuesday.
His remarks suggest he will continuein a pressure campaign to wrest concessions from the United States and other rivals. Monday night’s parade marked the 90th anniversary of North Korea’s military – the backbone of the Kim family’s authoritarian regime – and came as the country grapples with a battered economy. -related difficulties, sanctioning the sanctions imposed by the United States and its own mismanagement.
State media photos showed Kim, dressed in a white military ceremonial coat, smiling and waving from a balcony with his wife Ri Sol Ju and other senior lawmakers.
“We will continue to implement measures to strengthen and develop our country’s nuclear forces at maximum speed,” Kim told his troops and the crowd gathered for the parade in a square in Pyongyang, according to the report. Korea’s official 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 limit themselves to a single war prevention mission,” Kim said. “If any forces attempt to harm our fundamental interests, our nuclear forces will have no choice but to absolutely accomplish their unexpected second mission.”
The parade featured marching troops shouting “hurrah!” and a range of modern weapons, including missiles potentially capable of reaching the American homeland as well as shorter-range missiles that can be fired from ground vehicles or submarines and threaten South Korea and Japan. .
One of the weapons displayed in the illuminated Kim Il Sung Square, named after Kim’s late grandfather and state founder, was North Korea’s largest intercontinental ballistic missile, the Hwasong-17.
said it tested the missile last month on its first full-range ICBM liftoff in more than four years. saying Pyongyang launched a smaller existing Hwasong-15 ICBM after a failed Hwasong-17 launch. Despite outside doubts, the missile fired on March 24 flew longer and higher than any other missile launched by North Korea, demonstrating its potential ability to penetrate deep into the American mainland.
KCNA said parade-goers cheered when they saw the Hwasong-17, which it said showed “the absolute power of Juche (self-reliance), Korea and our republic’s strategic position in the world”.
North Korea often commemorates anniversaries of key states with great fanfare to build internal unity. Tuesday’s KCNA dispatch praised Kim for accomplishing “the great historic cause of supplementing the nuclear forces by going on a long journey of patriotic devotion with a death-defying will to ensure that the people would enjoy eternal happiness without them.” horrors of war generation after generation.”
Kim also revived the nuclear tightrope policy aimed at forcing the United States to accept North Korea as a nuclear power and removing crippling economic sanctions. Analysts say North Korea is exploiting an enabling environment to advance its weapons program as the UN Security Council remains divided on.
Nuclear negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang have stalled since 2019 over disagreements over the potential 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.
North Korea has carried out 13 rounds of weapons tests this year, including its alleged launch of the Hwasong-17. There are also signs that North Korea is rebuilding tunnels at a nuclear testing ground that was last active in 2017, possibly in preparation for a nuclear device detonation.
In 2017, North Korea claimed to have acquired the capability to launch nuclear strikes on the continental United States after a torrid series of nuclear and missile tests. The North had halted these wide-ranging tests before entering into now-dormant diplomacy with the United States.
The North has spent much of the past three years focusing on expanding its short-range arsenal aimed at South Korea as nuclear talks with the United States have stalled.
Kim’s aggressive military push could also be driven by domestic politics, as he otherwise has no significant achievements to show his people as he marks a decade in power.
He has failed to secure much-needed sanctions relief from his diplomacy with then-President Donald Trump, and the COVID-19 pandemic has unleashed new shocks to the country’s shattered economy. , forcing him to acknowledge last year that North Korea was facing its “worst situation ever”. .”