The South Korean Yonhap news agency says North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has ordered his country’s nuclear weapons made ready for use at a moment’s notice.
SEOUL, South Korea – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ordered his military on standby for nuclear strikes at any time, state media reported Friday, an escalation in rhetoric targeting rivals Seoul and Washington that may not yet reflect the country’s actual nuclear capacity.
The threats are part of the authoritarian government’s ramped-up propaganda push to signal strength at home and abroad in the face of what it portrays as an effort by South Korea and the United States to overthrow its leadership.
In a show of anger over the recent adoption of harsh U.N. sanctions over its recent nuclear test and long-range rocket launch, the North fired off short-range projectiles into the sea Thursday. Friday’s report also comes ahead of huge U.S.-South Korean war games set to start next week that the North claims are invasion preparations, and amid a much harder line from rival Seoul meant to squeeze Pyongyang.
“The only way for defending the sovereignty of our nation and its right to existence under the present extreme situation is to bolster up nuclear force both in quality and quantity,” a dispatch from the North’s official Korean Central News Agency said, paraphrasing Kim. It said Kim stressed “the need to get the nuclear warheads deployed for national defense always on standby so as to be fired any moment.”
North Korea has threatened nuclear war in the past, but it is unclear just how advanced the country’s nuclear program really is. Pyongyang is thought to have a handful of likely crude atomic bombs, but there is considerable outside debate about the state of its arsenal.
Most experts say it’s highly unlikely that the North currently has a reliable, intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching U.S. shores, let alone the ability to arm it with a miniaturized nuclear warhead. But the North can probably place nuclear warheads on its shorter-range Scuds and its 1,300-kilometer-range Rodong missiles, which can strike targets in South Korea and Japan, said Lee Choon Geun, an analyst from the South’s state-funded Science and Technology Policy Institute. Other analysts, however, question this.
Kim made the most recent warning while guiding the test-firing of a new large-caliber multiple launch rocket system, the report said.
The North’s report didn’t say when the test-firing happened, but many in South Korea believe it likely refers to the six short-range projectiles that Seoul said North Korea fired into the sea on Thursday.
South Korea’s Defense Ministry said the North Korean projectiles, fired from the eastern coastal town of Wonsan, flew about 60 to 90 miles. Ministry officials said they couldn’t confirm whether the projectiles were those fired by the weapons system KCNA referred to.
Thursday’s firings were seen as a “low-level” response to the U.N. sanctions, with North Korea unlikely to launch any major provocation until its landmark ruling Workers’ Party convention in May, according to Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.
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