North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has warned he is ready to use his nuclear weapons in possible military conflicts with the United States and South Korea, accusing Pyongyang’s rivals of pushing the Korean peninsula edge of war.
“Our armed forces are fully prepared to respond to any crisis, and our nation’s nuclear war deterrent is also ready to mobilize its absolute power conscientiously, exactly, and promptly in accordance with its mission,” Kim said in Wednesday’s speech to the press. war veterans on the 69. anniversary of the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.
Kim’s speech was aimed at bolstering internal unity in the impoverished country amid pandemic-related economic hardship.
While Kim has increasingly threatened his rivals with nuclear weapons, he is unlikely to use them first against the senior military of the United States and its allies, observers say.
Supreme Leader Kim also took the opportunity to accuse the United States of “demonizing” North Korea to justify its hostile policies.
He said the US-South Korean military drills targeting North Korea showed the Western country’s ‘double standards’ and ‘gangster’ aspects as they branded Pyongyang’s routine military activities – an apparent reference to its missile tests – of provocations or threats.
American-South Korean military alliance “suicidal action”
Kim also alleged that the new South Korean government of President Yoon Suk Yeol is run by “confrontational maniacs” and “gangsters” who have gone further than previous conservative South Korean governments.
Since taking office in May, the Yoon government has moved to bolster Seoul’s military alliance with the United States and enhance its ability to neutralize North Korean nuclear threats, including a preemptive strike capability.
“Talking about military action against our nation, which has absolute weapons that they fear the most, is absurd and is a very dangerous suicidal action,” Kim said.
“Such a dangerous attempt will be immediately punished by our powerful force, and Yoon Suk Yeol’s government and its army will be wiped out.”
Moon Hong-Sik, deputy spokesperson for South Korea’s defense ministry, reiterated a previous stance on Thursday that Seoul had strengthened its military capacity and joint defense posture with the United States to deal with the escalation. nuclear threats from Pyongyang. South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the military remained firmly ready.
In April, Kim said North Korea could use nuclear weapons preemptively if threatened, saying it “would never be confined to the sole mission of war deterrence.”
Kim’s army also has tested nuclear-capable missiles that put both the continental United States and South Korea within striking range. US and South Korean officials have repeatedly said in recent months that North Korea is ready to conduct its first nuclear test in five years.
Sanctions, mismanagement and covid
Kim is seeking greater public support as his country’s economy has been battered by pandemic-related border closures, US-imposed sanctions and its own mismanagement.
In May, North Korea also admitted its first outbreak of COVID-19, though the scale of illness and death is widely disputed in a country that lacks the modern medical capacity to deal with it.
“Kim’s rhetoric inflates external threats to justify his military and economically struggling regime,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.
“North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs are in violation of international law, but Kim is trying to portray his stockpiling of destabilizing weapons as a righteous self-defense effort.”
Experts say North Korea will likely step up its threats against the United States and South Korea as allies prepare to expand summer drills.
In recent years, the South Korean and American militaries have canceled or reduced some of their regular exercises due to concerns about COVID-19 and to support the now stalled US-led diplomacy aimed at convince North Korea to abandon its nuclear program in exchange for economic and political benefits.
During Wednesday’s speech, Kim said his government had recently set tasks to improve its military capacity more quickly to respond to military pressure campaigns by its enemies, suggesting it intended to carry out a nuclear test. expected.
But Cheong Seong-Chang, of the private Sejong Institute in South Korea, said North Korea was unlikely to conduct its nuclear test until China – its main ally and biggest aid benefactor – hold its Communist Party congress in the fall.
He said China was concerned that a North Korean nuclear test would give the United States justification to strengthen its security partnerships with its allies which it could use to control Chinese influence in the region.
North Korea recently said it was poised to ride out the COVID-19 outbreak amid plummeting fever cases. Still, experts say it’s unclear whether the country can lift its tough restrictions soon as it could face a virus resurgence later this year.
At Wednesday’s event, Kim, veterans and others did not wear masks, state media photos showed. On Thursday, North Korea reported 11 cases of fever, a massive drop from a peak of around 400,000 a day in May.
North Korea has rejected US and South Korean offers of medical relief items. He also said he would not resume talks with Washington unless he first abandoned his hostile policy toward the North, in an apparent reference to U.S.-South Korean sanctions and military drills. .