TOKYO — North Korea’s Kim Jong Un has ordered his military to be ready to use its nuclear weapons at any time, saying they were needed given the “ferocious hostility” of new “gangster-like” sanctions leveled against Pyongyang.
The order, reported in North Korea’s official media Friday, is the second outburst in as many days from Pyongyang, an angry response to the new multilateral sanctions aimed at punishing Kim’s regime for its recent nuclear test and missile launch. On Thursday, the North Korean military fired six projectiles into the Sea of Japan.
“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,” Kim said, according to a report carried by the Korean Central News Agency.
Kim stressed the “need to get the nuclear warheads deployed for national defense always on standby so as to be fired any moment,” the report said.
Pyongyang has a habit of making grandiose threats in colorful language, part of the regime’s efforts to maintain a climate of fear within the North Korean population but also to signal defiance to the outside world.
While there are plenty of question marks hanging over North Korea’s actual technical capabilities, analysts say Pyongyang is clearly trying to increase its bargaining power.
“Irrespective of its actual capabilities,” said Omar Hamid, head of Asia analysis at IHS Country Risk, a consultancy, “North Korea is likely to calculate that its claimed nuclear deterrent gives it more freedom to use conventional weapons in incidents designed to exert political pressure on South Korea and the United States.”
In a rare show of unified toughness, the U.N. Security Council — which counts China and Russia, North Korea’s neighbors and closest allies, as veto-wielding members — this week unanimously adopted harsh sanctions aimed at stopping Pyongyang from advancing its nuclear weapons program.
While previous rounds of sanctions have failed to change the Kim regime’s calculus, many analysts have been surprised at the scope of the latest resolution.
Friday’s KCNA report said that “the U.S. imperialists and their followers” had “committed a ferocious hostility” against North Korea’s rights as a sovereign state by adopting “unprecedented and gangster-like” sanctions.
The sanctions make it mandatory for port authorities to inspect ships going to or coming from North Korea. A North Korean cargo ship that docked near Manila was inspected by the Philippine coast guard Friday, wire agencies reported, as the sanctions take effect.
The ship, the Jin Teng, was checked by five coast guard personnel and two bomb-sniffer dogs, but nothing suspicious was found. The ship was loaded with palm-kernel expeller, a byproduct of palm-oil production that can be used to feed farm animals, the Associated Press reported.
Because of the tensions in the region, the report continued, Kim had personally overseen the test-firing of “controlled ordnance rockets” launched from a new “Korean-style large-caliber multiple launch rocket system.”
The new hardware would “further strengthen the striking power” of the North Korean army, the report said, “so as not to allow the enemies to sleep in peace till the moment they meet their final end in their land.”
The next few months will probably be a period of high tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
A South Korean and U.S. working group met for the first time Friday to discuss deploying the sophisticated anti-ballistic missile system known as THAAD, and joint military exercises between the American and South Korean militaries are starting this month.
Sending a THAAD system to South Korea would be a direct response to North Korea’s growing missile threat, while the exercises are always a time of increased friction as Pyongyang views them as preparation for an invasion.
Then, in May, North Korea will hold the first congress of its ruling Workers’ Party in 36 years. Analysts say that Kim, whose legitimacy as the third-generation leader of North Korea is tenuous, wants to have tangible achievements — such as advancements in the nuclear and missile programs — to crow about at the event.