Kim has made repeated promises to ramp up North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and build out its stockpile to counter what he says is U.S. aggression, according to the Associated Press. Experts have estimated North Korea has dozens of nuclear warheads, with one 2021 study putting the number as high as 116.
“They are now keen on isolating and stifling [North Korea], unprecedented in human history,” Kim said at a recent ruling party meeting, according to state media. “The prevailing situation calls for making redoubled efforts to overwhelmingly beef up the military muscle.”
Kim called for “an exponential increase of the country’s nuclear arsenal” to target South Korea with tactical nuclear weapons and announced a government mission to create a weapon capable of hitting the United States.
Tensions between North Korea and its Democratic neighbor to the south have grown increasingly strained recently as North Korea continues to ramp up missile testing. South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol recently told his top military leaders, “our security situation is still very grave,” according to the AP.
South Korea’s military warned that any attempt by Kim’s government to use a nuclear weapon “will lead to the end of the Kim Jong Un government.”
Yoon told a South Korean newspaper that he is seeking closer cooperation with the United States to monitor and restrict North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.
“While the nuclear weapons belong to the US, intel sharing, planning, and training should be done jointly,” Yoon said, according to Bloomberg. “The US’s stance is quite positive.”
North Korea ended 2022 with what was suspected to be the testing of three ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan. The launches came a day after South Korea tested a rocket as part of its program to build out a space-based surveillance system to monitor North Korea.
South Korea’s top military leadership called the ballistic missile tests “a grave provocation.”
Earlier last week, North Korea flew drones across its southern border over South Korea for the first time in five years, according to South Korean authorities. South Korea responded by flying drones into North Korean airspace.
North Korea ramped up its weapons testing in 2022, testing more than 70 missiles.
Experts say that North Korea’s behavior, along with Kim’s recent comments on his country’s nuclear ambitions, shows an emboldened North Korea that may be able to support its bluster.
“Kim’s comments from the party meeting reads like an ambitious — but perhaps achievable — New Year’s resolution list,” RAND Corporation security analyst Soo Kim told the AP. “It’s ambitious in that Kim consciously chose to spell out what he hopes to accomplish as we head into 2023, but it also suggests a dose of confidence on Kim’s part.”