SEOUL - North Korean leader Kim Jong Un called for developing new intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and a larger nuclear arsenal to counter United States-led threats, state media said on Sunday amid flaring tensions between the rival Koreas.
At a meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party, Mr Kim highlighted the need to secure “overwhelming military power” to defend its sovereignty and security.
The meeting came amid cross-border tensions over last week’s intrusion by North Korean drones into the South, and the North’s series of missile launches, including ICBMs.
South Korea’s President Yoon Suk-yeol, during phone calls with military chiefs, called for “solid mental readiness and practical training” to ensure any North Korean provocations will be met with retaliation, according to a statement from his office.
Mr Kim accused Washington and Seoul of trying to “isolate and stifle” Pyongyang with US nuclear strike assets constantly deployed in South Korea, calling it “unprecedented in human history”.
He vowed to develop another ICBM system “whose main mission is quick nuclear counter-strike”, under a plan to bolster the country’s nuclear force, said the official KCNA news agency.
“The prevailing situation calls for making redoubled efforts to overwhelmingly beef up the military muscle... in response to the worrying military moves by the US and other hostile forces,” it said.
South Korea has become “our undoubted enemy” being “hell-bent on imprudent and dangerous arms build-up” and hostile military moves, Mr Kim said.
“It highlights the importance and necessity of a mass-producing of tactical nuclear weapons and calls for an exponential increase of the country’s nuclear arsenal,” he said, adding that these would be a “main orientation” of the 2023 nuclear and defence strategy.
As part of the plan, the country will also launch its first military satellite “at the earliest date possible” by accelerating its drive to build a spy satellite, with preparations for the vehicle being in the final stage, KCNA said.
As he pledged to bolster the country’s nuclear might, the North Korean leader carried out a sweeping reorganisation of his leadership including military chiefs, without offering detailed reasons for the changes.
Mr Ri Yong Gil was appointed vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission of the ruling Workers’ Party that Mr Kim leads, replacing Mr Pak Jong Chon, KCNA reported on Sunday.
Mr Kang Sun Nam takes over as defence minister, replacing Mr Ri, while Mr Pak Su Il was appointed Chief of the Korean People’s Army General Staff in a reorganisation that also involved other economic and security personnel.
Pyongyang routinely revamps its leadership and the latest reorganisation comes at the end of an almost week-long party conference.
Super-large rocket launcher
The report came hours after it fired a ballistic missile over the sea to the east of the Korean peninsula in the early hours of Sunday, in a rare late-night, New Year’s Day weapons test.
Pyongyang also launched three ballistic missiles on Saturday.
The short-range ballistic missile was fired around 2.50am local time (1.50am Singapore time) from around the Ryongsong area of the capital Pyongyang, said South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The recent drone intrusion rekindled criticism of South Korea’s air defences, and Mr Yoon on Sunday again urged the military to stand ready to retaliate.
“Our military must resolutely retaliate against any provocation by the enemy with the determination to fight,” he told the military chiefs.
The US Indo-Pacific Command said in a statement that though the launch did not pose an immediate threat to US personnel or territory, or to Washington’s allies, it highlighted the destabilising impact of the North’s weapons programme.
Japan’s coast guard said the missile reached an altitude of around 100km and flew around 350km. Japanese Defence Minister Yasukazu Hamada has protested to North Korea over the launch, Kyodo News reported on Sunday.
The launch follows an unprecedented number of missile tests conducted by North Korea in 2022, as Pyongyang presses on with weapons development amid speculation that it could test a nuclear weapon for a seventh time.
In 2022, the North also resumed testing ICBMs for the first time since 2017, successfully launching the massive new Hwasong-17, which is believed to have the range to strike anywhere in the US.
KCNA said in a separate dispatch it was testing a new 600mm super-large multiple rocket launcher capable of carrying nuclear weapons.
Mr Kim lauded the munitions industry for delivering 30 units of the system, calling it a “core, offensive weapon” with all of South Korea within its range, and the ability to conduct a surprise and precision launch.
“We have declared our resolute will to respond with nuke for nuke and an all-out confrontation for an all-out confrontation,” Mr Kim told a delivery ceremony on Saturday, ordering more powerful weapons to “absolutely overwhelm the US imperialist aggressive forces and their puppet army”.
Inter-Korea ties have long been testy but have grown even more tense since President Yoon took office in May pledging a tougher line against Pyongyang.
The recent drone intrusion rekindled criticism over South Korea’s air defences, and Mr Yoon ordered the military to send drones into the North in response, “even if that means risking escalation”, officials said. REUTERS, BLOOMBERG