North Korea's Kim again threatens use of nukes as he praises troops for long-range missile launch

Since adopting an escalatory nuclear doctrine last year, Kim has repeatedly threatened to use nuclear weapons preemptively.

Published - December 22, 2023 04:22 am IST - SEOUL, South Korea

In this undated photo provided Monday, Dec. 18, 2023, by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un watches a test launch of what it says is an intercontinental ballistic missile from an undisclosed location in North Korea.

In this undated photo provided Monday, Dec. 18, 2023, by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un watches a test launch of what it says is an intercontinental ballistic missile from an undisclosed location in North Korea. | Photo Credit: AP

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said his country has a policy of not hesitating to launch a nuclear strike on its rivals if provoked, as he praised troops involved in its recent intercontinental ballistic missile test, state media reported Thursday.

Since adopting an escalatory nuclear doctrine last year, Mr. Kim has repeatedly threatened to use nuclear weapons preemptively. But many foreign experts say North Korea has yet to obtain functioning nuclear missiles and is also unlikely to use its nukes first because it’s outgunned by the U.S. and its allied forces.

North Korea on Monday conducted its first intercontinental ballistic missile test in five months, calling the drill a warning over confrontational U.S. and South Korean moves. North Korea cited a recent U.S.-South Korean meeting on boosting their nuclear deterrence plans.

The North’s Korean Central News Agency said Mr. Kim met troops from the General Missile Bureau on Wednesday to congratulate them on the launch of the developmental solid-fueled Hwasong-18 missile, the North’s newest and most powerful ICBM.

During the meeting, Mr. Kim said the launch demonstrated the evolution of the North’s nuclear doctrine and strategy “not to hesitate even with a nuclear attack when the enemy provokes it with nukes,” KCNA said.

Mr. Kim said peace is guaranteed by a war posture of being willing to launch preemptive strikes on the enemy anywhere to make it feel fear, KCNA said.

Last year, North Korea adopted a law that stipulates a broad range of situations in which it can use nuclear weapons. Since the beginning of 2022, it has also test-fired about 100 ballistic missiles, many of them nuclear-capable weapons targeting the U.S. and South Korea. Monday’s Hwasong-18 launch was the weapon’s third test-flight this year.

The U.S. and South Korean governments have repeatedly warned that any attempt by North Korea to use nuclear weapons would result in the end of the Kim Jong Un government. The allies have also expanded their military training, which Mr. Kim views as invasion rehearsal.

After the North’s latest ICBM launch, the U.S., South Korea and Japan began sharing real-time missile warning data on North Korea and established details of their trilateral exercises in the coming years. On Wednesday, the U.S. flew long-range B-1B bombers for joint aerial training with South Korean and Japanese warplanes in a demonstration of strength against North Korea.

In an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting on Tuesday, the U.S., South Korea and their partners maintained that North Korea’s repeated missile launches threatened international peace and violated Security Council resolutions that ban any ballistic activities by North Korea.

Mr. Kim’s sister and senior official, Kim Yo Jong, said in a statement on Thursday she “feels very unpleasant” over the U.N. council meeting, which she said was held at “the brigandish demand of the U.S. and its satellite countries.”

She said the U.N. council must hold the U.S. and South Korea accountable for heightened tensions as they stage “all sorts of military provocations all year round.”

The North’s latest ICBM launch won’t likely earn the country fresh international sanctions. China and Russia — locked in separate confrontations with the U.S. — have repeatedly blocked any U.N. Security Council responses to the North’s banned ballistic missile tests since last year.

In a joint statement released Thursday, the top diplomats from South Korea, the U.S. and Japan said the North’s ICBM and other recent missile launches serve as a reminder of the need for all countries to fully implement North Korea-related U.N. Security Council resolutions that prohibit the country from acquiring technologies and materials to advance its unlawful missile program.

The statement said the three countries will work closely with the international community to block the North’s efforts to finance its weapons programs through the exploitation of overseas workers and malicious cyber activities.

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