North Korea’s Kim calls on military to ‘accelerate’ war preparations

Party speech suggests record year of weapons testing will continue into 2024 in defiance of international sanctions.

A view of the Workers' Party meeting. Kim Jong Un is on the left of the podium, he is being applauded by the others on the stage as well as the delegates in the hall The wall behind is decorated with red banners, party flags and the hammer and sickle.
Kim Jong Un acknowledges the applause of party delegates and officials [KCNA via KNS and AFP]

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has ordered the military, including its nuclear programme, to “accelerate” war preparations to counter what he called unprecedented confrontational moves by the United States.

Speaking at an ongoing meeting of the country’s ruling Workers’ Party, Kim “set forth the militant tasks for the People’s Army and the munitions industry, nuclear weapons and civil defence sectors to further accelerate war preparations”, the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported on Thursday.

Kim also stressed that the “military situation” on the Korean peninsula had become “extreme” due to “unprecedented” anti-North confrontations with the US, KCNA said.

The state news agency did not go into detail on the preparations.

South Korea, Japan and the US  have deepened political and defence cooperation this year in the face of a record-breaking series of weapons tests by Pyongyang and recently activated a system to share real-time data on North Korean missile launches.

Earlier this month, a US nuclear-powered submarine arrived in the South Korean port city of Busan, and Washington has deployed its long-range bombers in drills with Seoul and Tokyo.

Pyongyang, meanwhile, successfully launched its first military spy satellite on the third attempt, tested the solid-fuelled Hwasong-18, its most advanced intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), and enshrined nuclear power status in the country’s constitution.

Kim earlier this week defined 2023 as a “year of great turn and great change” in which Pyongyang saw “eye-opening victories”.

Last week, the United Nations atomic agency said a second reactor at North Korea’s Yongbyon nuclear facility appeared to be operational, calling it “deeply regrettable”.

Kim Jong Un inspecting the launch preparation status of a Hwasong-18 ICBM. He is standing next to the weapon on its launcher in a tunnel
Kim Jong Un oversaw last month’s test of the Hwasong-18 solid-fuelled ICBM [KCNA via KNS and AFP]

Kim’s comments suggest North Korea is unlikely to slow the pace of its weapons tests or military modernisation, although some analysts believe he aims to build leverage towards diplomacy with Washington, possibly after the US presidential election in November next year.

Nuclear talks collapsed in 2019 after the failure of a series of high-stakes summits with then-President Donald Trump over sanctions relief in return for a partial surrender of Pyongyang’s nuclear programme. The country has been under UN Security Council sanctions since it first conducted a nuclear test in 2006.

North Korea has been deepening ties with Moscow, and Kim told party delegates Pyongyang would further expand strategic cooperation with “anti-imperialist independent” countries.

Kim made a rare trip outside his country in September when he met Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Russian Far East touring the Vostochny Cosmodrome and later visiting military bases and weapons factories. The meeting took place amid concerns Pyongyang was supplying military equipment to Moscow for use in its war with Ukraine in exchange for Russian technological know-how.

Kim also laid out economic goals for 2024, calling it a “decisive year” to accomplish the country’s five-year development plan and stressing the importance of agriculture, the report said.

North Korea has suffered serious food shortages in recent decades, including a famine in the 1990s. International experts say the prolonged border closures during the COVID-19 pandemic worsened food security.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies