TOKYO — North Korea began the new year with a ballistic missile test and its leader Kim Jong Un’s resolve for an “exponential increase” in its nuclear weapons arsenal in 2023, as the country barrels forward with its nuclear program while negotiations remain deadlocked for nearly four years.
Kim’s message indicates that 2023 may look a lot like 2022, with the North Korean leader becoming more resolute about advancing his country’s program, which he views as critical leverage with the world. Last year, North Korea conducted an unprecedented number of ballistic missile tests, and Washington, Seoul and Tokyo have banded closer together with a tougher line toward Pyongyang.
Kim announced in September that there would be “absolutely no denuclearization, no negotiation and no bargaining chip to trade,” regardless of economic sanctions from the international community. North Korea has rejected overtures to resume talks unless Washington reverses what Pyongyang considers “hostile policies” and provides sanctions relief and security guarantees. North Korea vehemently objects to joint military drills by the United States and its allies, as well as the presence of U.S. nuclear-armed bombers and submarines in the region.
Kim’s call for the increase in his nuclear arsenal comes as North Korea appears to shift its decades-long position on Washington, Beijing and Moscow. Both China and Russia have drawn North Korea closer than ever, and the two countries have consistently rejected efforts at the U.N. Security Council to punish North Korea for its ballistic missile tests, which has allowed Kim to aggressively improve its weapons capabilities with near impunity.
In his remarks after the party meeting, Kim noted that the “structure of international relations has been apparently shifted to the “new Cold War’ system and a push for multipolarization is further expedited,” and called on his government “to raise national prestige, defend national rights and safeguard national interest and to protect regional peace and security.”
Tensions on the Korean Peninsula have been on the rise. In a fresh escalation last week, North Korean drones breached the border for the first time in five years and South Korea’s military scrambled to respond with their own warning shots and surveillance assets. One drone flew about an hour’s drive from Seoul, according to South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff.
On Saturday, North Korea fired three short-range ballistic missiles into the waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan. On Sunday, it fired another such missile. North Korea said it had tested a nuclear-capable “super-large multiple rocket launcher system” on Saturday and Sunday.
Kim said growing threats from the South, such as the joint military drills with the United States, “highlights the importance and necessity of a mass-producing of tactical nuclear weapons,” according to Sunday’s state media report. Kim reiterated that his country is ready to face South Korea’s threats “nuke for nuke.”