North Korean leader Kim Jong-un urged the country to exponentially increase its nuclear arsenal and mass-produce tactical nuclear weapons able to strike within South Korean territory, labeling South Korea as an “undoubted enemy” at a key party meeting, North Korean state media reported Sunday.
In response to Kim’s explicit threat, the South Korean military publicly warned that any nuclear attack by North Korea would spell the end of the Kim Jong-un regime. Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup also ordered an emergency meeting and for the military to “firmly and sternly punish” North Korean provocations.
North Korea’s national strategy and policy direction for 2023 was unveiled following a six-day enlarged plenary meeting of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea held from Dec. 26 to 31 last year.
Kim announced “significant policy decisions on spurring the strengthening of self-defense national defense capabilities based on the analysis of the current status of North-South relations and external challenges seriously threatening regional peace and security,” the state-run Korean Central News Agency said in a Korean-language dispatch.
Kim underscored that the current external situation demands North Korea “redouble efforts to strengthen overwhelming military power to thoroughly guarantee the sovereignty, security and fundamental interests of the DPRK in response to worrisome military movements by the US and hostile forces.” North Korea’s formal name is the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
“The current situation, in which South Korean puppet forces have been becoming our undoubted enemy, highlights the importance and necessity of mass-producing tactical nuclear weapons and calls for an exponential increase of the country’s nuclear arsenal,” Kim was quoted as saying by the KCNA. Tactical nuclear weapons have less explosive power than strategic nuclear weapons, but they are designed for battlefield use.
The KCNA said Kim “declared an epoch-making strategy” for strengthening nuclear-armed forces and national defense development in 2023, which sets such nuclear buildup as the “basic and central direction.”
In his report at the party plenum, Kim reaffirmed the country’s first use of nuclear doctrine, which was announced in September. Kim said the first and primary mission of North Korean nuclear forces is to “deter war and safeguard peace and stability.” But if North Korean nuclear forces fail to deter war, Kim said, they will “carry out a second mission which is definitely not for defense.”
At the year-end party plenum, Kim also ordered the country to “develop another new intercontinental ballistic missile system,” the KCNA reported, adding the new ICBM system essentially will have “rapid nuclear counterattack capability.”
Kim directed the National Aerospace Development Administration to launch the country’s first military reconnaissance satellite in the “shortest period of time possible.” North Korea previously said it would complete preparation by April this year.
Kim Dong-yub, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, explained that an exponential increase in the number of nuclear bombs means that North Korea seeks to acquire sufficient nuclear bombs to enable the country to concurrently pursue deterrence by punishment and denial. Deterrence by punishment can be achieved through the threat of retaliation, whereas deterrence by denial seeks to deter enemies by denying their ability to pose a threat and making it difficult for them to achieve their aims.
In addition, the North Korean leader’s remarks suggested that North Korea would expedite the mass production and deployment of newly developed tactical weapons, including the KN-23, 24 and 25 dual-capable missiles able to deliver both conventional payloads and tactical nuclear weapons, the professor said.
The professor also elucidated that the new ICBM system is likely to be solid fuel, given that Kim Jong-un previously said he expected the emergence of another “new-type strategic weapon in the shortest period” while guiding the test of a high-thrust solid-propellent engine on Dec. 15.
In general, Seoul-based experts said the latest party plenum was focused on highlighting North Korea’s plan to develop defense capabilities and pushing for hard-line foreign policies mainly against South Korea and the US.
Pyongyang did not previously disclose its recalibrated approach to South Korea and the US after it announced the outcome of the year-end party plenary meeting held in 2021, which was dominated by internal affairs, including economic growth.
“The decisions at the party plenary meeting and Kim Jong-un’s remarks mainly aim to deliver an equivocally hawkish message to South Korea, although North Korea sought to convey a message to the US by announcing the plan to develop a new intercontinental ballistic missile system and implying the possibility of launching preemptive nuclear attacks,” said Lim Eul-chul, a professor of North Korean studies at Kyungnam University in Seoul.
“North Korea is expected to use a strategy to pressure and subdue the Yoon Suk-yeol government by raising security concerns to the highest level this year.”
During the party plenum, the North Korean leader also “proposed the key task” in terms of its South Korea and foreign policies “based on the analysis of the external environment” that his country has faced.
Kim called for the country to “raise national prestige, defend national sovereignty and national interest and protect regional peace and security” in keeping pace with the flow of international relations. Kim pointed out that the “structure of international relations has been clearly shifting into a ‘new cold war’ system and the trend toward multipolarity has been accelerated.”
Kim in particular clarified the “more specific direction of countering the US and other enemies.” Kim ordered the country to take actions to “reinforce its physical force more reliably and surely while upholding the principle of struggling against enemies — which are strength-for-strength and head-on confrontation.”
On the final day of the party plenum, North Korea also held a ceremony delivering 30 “600mm super-large multiple-rocket launchers” — which had been produced since late October — to the military for deployment, North Korean state media said Sunday in a separate report.
Kim said the super-large multiple-rocket launchers have the “range of striking South Korea and are capable of carrying tactical nuclear weapons” in his Korean-language speech delivered Saturday at the ceremony.
Super-large multiple-rocket launchers will “carry out its combat mission of overpowering the enemy as a core, offensive weapon of our armed forces,” Kim added.
Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said Kim’s speech aimed to warn South Korea of the “possibility of actual action being taken” by the Kim regime against South Korea.
“North Korea’s weapons delivery ceremony, which was unprecedentedly held after the party plenum, intended to send a message of warning to South Korea given that multiple-rocket launchers are main offensive weapons designed to counter South Korea,” Yang said.
“There are indications that North Korea could make a tactical shift this year from directly pressuring the US to indirectly pressuring the US through ramping up pressure on South Korea and heightening tensions on the Korean Peninsula,” Yang added.
South Korea’s Unification Ministry on Sunday assessed that Kim’s remarks at the party plenum and ceremony of the delivery of weapons “blatantly showed North Korea’s intention to continue to heighten military tensions while maintaining a hostile attitude” towards South Korea.
North Korea’s “supreme leader defined South Korea as an undoubted enemy and carried implied military threats including the possibility of preemptively using nuclear weapons,” the Unification Ministry said, forecasting that North Korea will highly likely to continue missile launches and “attempt local provocations.”
South Korea’s defense minister convened an emergency meeting of commanders over the outcome of the party plenum on Sunday afternoon and called for the military to “maintain firm readiness.”
“If North Korea conducts direct provocations against us, we firmly and sternly punish North Korea without hesitating in light of our right to self-defense,” Lee said during the meeting, bracing for the possibility of North Korea continuing provocations.
The South Korean military also condemned North Korea for “making provocative remarks that seriously harm peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula,” in a statement issued Sunday afternoon.
“Our military gravely warned that the Kim Jong-un regime will face collapse should North Korea attempt to use nuclear weapons,” the statement said. “We will deter and counter North Korean nuclear and missile threats by substantially enhancing the viability of US extended deterrence and drastically strengthen South Korea’s three-axis system.”
North Korea’s Second Economic Committee also test-fired three shells from super-large multiple-rocket launchers toward the East Sea on Saturday morning to “examine the performance” of the weapon system before the handing-over ceremony, North Korean state media confirmed Sunday in another report.
A long-range artillery subunit in the western area of the Korean People’s Army fired one shell from a super-large multiple-rocket launcher toward the East Sea early Sunday, according to state media.
North Korea fired three short-range ballistic missiles from Chunghwa County in North Hwanghae Province toward the East Sea starting from 8 a.m. on Saturday, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff confirmed the same day. One more short-range ballistic missile was launched from Ryongsong in northern Pyongyang toward waters off its east coast at around 2:50 a.m. on Sunday, according to the JCS.