North Korean leader Kim Jong Un threatened nuclear retaliation if provoked and promised to strengthen the country’s nuclear weapons in a speech at a military parade where intercontinental ballistic missiles and other weapons were displayed, a state media outlet said Tuesday.
The latest high-profile military showcase comes amid signs that North Korea has been stepping up its nuclear capability to pressure the United States and its allies. The parade was held late Monday in the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, during celebrations to mark the 90th anniversary of its army’s founding.
The parade follows an unprecedented flurry of weapons tests by North Korea this year that dialed up tensions in the region. North Korea last month resumed testing intercontinental ballistic missiles that can potentially reach the U.S. mainland, after a nearly five-year hiatus.
“The fundamental mission of our nuclear forces is to deter a war, but our nukes can never be confined to the single mission of war deterrent even at a time when a situation we are not desirous of at all is created on this land,” Kim Jong Un was quoted as saying by the KCNA. “If any forces try to violate the fundamental interest of our state, our nuclear forces will have to decisively accomplish its unexpected second mission,” he said, without elaborating on what the secondary mission would be.
With his comments about the “mission” of North Korea’s nuclear weapons, the North Korean leader is “threatening that his nuclear weapons can be used for offensive purposes and not just for defense or retaliation,” said Duyeon Kim, a Seoul-based North Korea expert at the Center for a New American Security. “The most notable and concerning point in his comment is that the threshold for nuclear use seems extremely low.”
She said Kim’s remarks on violation of “fundamental interest of our state” appears to imply a wide and ambiguous range of circumstances under which Pyongyang would use a nuclear weapon first.
The North Korean leader also said he would “further strengthen our country’s nuclear forces at a maximum speed,” according to the Korean Central News Agency. Analysts in South Korea and the United States recently said there are also signs that North Korea is restoring a nuclear test site that it dismantled in 2018.
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