As Kim Jong-un criticised South Korea’s new president for the first time, he warned that Seoul was edging towards a war. The North Korean supreme leader said that his country was prepared to mobilise its nuclear war deterrent, and forewarned that it was ready to face a military clash even with the United States.
On Thursday, North Korea’s state-run news agency KCNA said that Kim made the remarks during a speech to mark the 69th anniversary of the Korean War armistice, which left the two sides at war indefinitely. According to Kim, the confrontation with the United States had posed nuclear threats since the 1950-53 war, which required the North to beef up its self-defence urgently.
“Our armed forces are thoroughly prepared to respond to any crisis, and our nation’s nuclear war deterrence is also fully ready to mobilise its absolute strength faithfully, accurately and promptly to its mission,” he said.
After Seoul and Washington announced that Pyongyang had finished preparations for its first nuclear test since 2017, South Korean and US officials said that it was possible the test could take place around the anniversary of the armistice. However, a military official said there were no immediate signs.
South Korea’s foreign minister said that North Korea will likely face stronger sanctions if it conducts the test. Sanctions will target the country’s cyberattack capabilities, as well as its nuclear program. North Korea’s top diplomat Park Jin, who took office in May as Yoon Suk-yeol’s top diplomat, confirmed that the country is preparing its first nuclear test since 2017.
As a result of its nuclear and missile programs, North Korea is already subject to various sanctions from the United Nations. The UN Security Council could adopt a resolution that is “far stronger and more closely woven” if it went ahead with the test, including measures targeting the hackers.
According to the US and South Korea, North Korea has mobilised thousands of hackers to steal funds, including cryptocurrency, to finance its weapons program. The North Korean foreign ministry has denied the accusation, and said that the missile programs are necessary for its defence.
This week, a number of American officials, including Anne Neuberger, the Deputy National Security Advisor for Cyber and Emerging Technologies, visited South Korea to speak about how to react to the North’s recent weapons tests and how to restart the stalled denuclearisation negotiations. Since 2006, North Korea has conducted six nuclear tests. Additionally, it has conducted tests on ballistic missiles that can reach the United States.
In his address, Kim Jong-un said that Washington continues to engage in “dangerous, unlawful hostile acts” with South Korea against the North, and tries to defend its actions by “demonising” the nation. The North has long accused the US of applying different standards to military activities, and of having a hostile foreign policy towards Pyongyang. The country claims that this undermines efforts to restart negotiations aimed at ending the nation’s nuclear and missile programmes in exchange for the lifting of sanctions.
“The duplex act of the United States, which is misleading all the routine actions of our armed forces as ‘provocation’ and ‘threat’ while holding large-scale joint military exercises that seriously threaten our security, is literally a robbery,” said Kim. “That is driving bilateral relations to the point where it is difficult to turn back, into a state of conflict,” he added.
Yoon Suk-yeol, the new conservative president of South Korea, was also condemned by name by Kim, who also accused him of endangering the security and right of self-defense of the North.
Yoon’s administration is led by “warmongers” and “disgusting thugs,” according to Kim, who singled out Seoul’s weapon advancements, the push to reintroduce American nuclear strategic assets, and joint military exercises. Their “toadyish, treacherous acts” and “heinous confrontational policy” against the North are putting the world on the verge of war, he claimed.
North Korea has also conducted tests of hypersonic missiles, which it claims are capable of carrying tactical nuclear warheads, reducing the amount of time Seoul would have to respond to an impending attack. Yoon has promised to finish the “Kill Chain” system, which calls for preemptive attacks on the North’s missiles, and maybe its leadership, if an impending attack is detected. However, Kim said that such a system is no match for the North’s “absolute weapon”. “If you think you can counter us militarily and preemptively neutralise or destroy part of our military power… Such a dangerous attempt will immediately be punished by a powerful force, and Yoon Suk-yeol’s government and his army will be annihilated,” he added.
In order to better counter Pyongyang’s threats, Seoul will keep bolstering its own capabilities as well as the United States nuclear umbrella and extended deterrence. Kim’s words appear to be designed to underscore the legitimacy of weapons advancements and his “eye for eye” policy against Washington and Seoul, according to Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.