North Korea's Kim vows to boost nuke capability after observing new ICBM launch

Mr. Kim's statement suggests North Korea would ramp up weapons testing activities to expand its arsenals in response to recent U.S. steps to enhance its security commitment to ally South Korea

July 13, 2023 01:02 pm | Updated July 14, 2023 09:52 am IST - Seoul

Test firing of an Hwasong-18 ICBM at an undisclosed location in North Korea. The image is as provided and cannot be independently verified. The Korean language watermark on the image as provided by the source reads: “KCNA” which is the abbreviation for Korean Central News Agency.

Test firing of an Hwasong-18 ICBM at an undisclosed location in North Korea. The image is as provided and cannot be independently verified. The Korean language watermark on the image as provided by the source reads: “KCNA” which is the abbreviation for Korean Central News Agency. | Photo Credit: AP

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un vowed to further bolster his country's nuclear fighting capabilities as he supervised the country's second test flight of a new Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) designed to strike the mainland U.S., state media reported July 13.

Mr. Kim's statement suggests North Korea would ramp up weapons testing activities to expand its arsenals in response to recent U.S. steps to enhance its security commitment to ally South Korea.

Also Read | North Korea conducts its 1st ICBM launch in 3 months after making threat over alleged US spy flights

"The present unstable situation in which the security environment on the Korean peninsula is being seriously threatened by the hostile forces every moment," Mr. Kim said, according to state media. "[That] requires more intense efforts to implement the line of bolstering nuclear war deterrent." The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) disclosed Mr. Kim's comments, after confirming the North conducted a successful launch of the Hwasong-18 ICBM on July 12. The launch was first reported by its neighbours soon after its liftoff.

The Hwasong-18 is a developmental, road-mobile missile, whose built-in solid propellant makes it more difficult for opponents to detect its launches in advance than liquid-fueled missiles. North Korea first tested the missile in April, and Mr. Kim has called it the most powerful weapon of his nuclear forces.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, left, claps while watching what North Korea says is the test-firing of an Hwasong-18 ICBM on July 12, 2023.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, left, claps while watching what North Korea says is the test-firing of an Hwasong-18 ICBM on July 12, 2023. | Photo Credit: AP

The launch was meant to reconfirm the technical credibility and operational reliability of the missile. Mr. Kim called the launch "another important stride" in efforts to boost the North's strategic forces, KCNA said.

According to the news agency, the missile was launched at a high angle to avoid neighbouring countries. It said the weapon travelled 74 minutes and a distance of 1,001 km at a maximum altitude of 6,648 km before landing on the preset area in the open waters off the North's east coast.

Also Read | North Korea fires two short-range ballistic missiles, Seoul says

The missile's flight time is the longest-ever recorded by any weapon launched by North Korea. If launched on a standard trajectory, the missile could fly to the mainland U.S. though some experts say North Korea still has some technologies to master to acquire functioning nuclear-armed missiles.

South Korea, Japan and the United States criticised North Korea over the launch which they said posed a threat to regional and international peace. Adam Hodge, a spokesperson for the White House National Security Council, said in a statement that the U.S. will take all necessary steps to ensure the security of the American homeland and South Korean and Japanese allies.

Mr. Kim set for unspecified tasks for the North's national defence sector, saying North Korea will take "a series of stronger military offensive" until the U.S. and South Korea "admit their shameful defeat of their useless hostile policy toward [North Korea] in despair and give up their policy." That signals Mr. Kim will intensify his push to modernise his missile arsenals with sophisticated weapons like the Hwasong-18. Other weapons on Kim's publicly stated wish list are a multi-warhead missile, a hypersonic weapon, a spy satellite and a nuclear-powered submarine.

A TV screen shows an image of North Korea’s missile launch during a news program, at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea on July 13, 2023.

A TV screen shows an image of North Korea’s missile launch during a news program, at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea on July 13, 2023. | Photo Credit: AP

North Korea has been focusing on reinforcing its nuclear capability after Mr. Kim's high-stakes nuclear diplomacy with then-President Donald Trump collapsed in 2019 due to disputes over U.S.-led sanctions on North Korea. KCNA accused the U.S. and South Korea of recently taking "frantic confrontation attempts" and bringing "a new chain of nuclear crises" on the Korean Peninsula.

North Korea often issues such harsh, warlike rhetoric in times of tension with its rivals. The KCNA dispatch cited a U.S.-South Korean agreement to strengthen the allies' deterrence capabilities such as the periodic docking of a U.S. nuclear-armed submarine in South Korea and the establishment of a new bilateral nuclear consultative group, whose inaugural meeting is slated for next week in Seoul.

Also Read | Thousands of North Koreans march in anti-U.S. rallies as country marks Korean War anniversary

The United States has expanded military drills with South Korea and taken steps to enhance “regular visibility” of U.S. strategic assets to the Korean Peninsula in response to the North’s advancing nuclear arsenal. North Korea conducted about 100 missile tests since the start of last year. Experts say Mr. Kim eventually aims to use his enlarged arsenal to win greater concessions in future diplomacy with the United States.

the recent ICBM launch came two days after Kim's sister and senior adviser, Ms. Kim Yo Jong, threatened "shocking" consequences to protest what she called provocative United States reconnaissance activity near its territory.

The U.S. and South Korean governments dismissed the North's accusation as groundless and urged it to refrain from escalatory actions.

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