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Evening Standard
Evening Standard
Josh Salisbury

North Korea’s Kim Jong-un vows to step up nuclear weapons programme at Pyongyang military parade

North Korean despot Kim Jong Un has vowed to bolster his nuclear forces at “maximum speed” at a military parade that displayed intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and other weapons.

In remarks reported by state media on Tuesday, the dictator threatened to use the weapons if provoked.

The lavish parade on Monday night marked the 90th anniversary of North Korea’s army, and comes as the country’s economy faces the fallout from the pandemic, sanctions and ongoing mismanagement.

State media photos showed Kim, dressed in a white military ceremonial coat, smiling and waving from a balcony along with his wife Ri Sol-ju and other top deputies.

Kim Jong Un and his wife Ri Sol-ju (via REUTERS)

“We will continue to implement measures aimed at strengthening and developing our country’s nuclear forces at the maximum speed,” he said at the Pyongyang demonstration, according to the state Korean Central News Agency.

“The fundamental mission of our nuclear forces is to deter war, but if an undesirable situation emerges on our land, our nuclear forces cannot be limited to a single mission of preventing war.

“If any forces, regardless of who they are, try to infringe upon our fundamental interests, our nuclear forces will have no choice but to absolutely carry out its unexpected second mission.”

Hong Min, a senior fellow at the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul, said Kim’s speech could signal a change in his nuclear doctrine to leave open the possibility of “nuclear first use”.

This would be a shift from previously confining their purpose to deterrence and defence.

Kim Jong Un, second left, watches the military parade (AP)

“Though he did not specify what makes the ‘second mission’ or ‘fundamental interests’, he indicated more broadly that the nuclear force might be used preemptively, not only when they’re under attack, but also under certain circumstances,” Hong said.

The parade at Kim il-Sung square featured an array of modern weapons, including North Korea’s biggest, newly built intercontinental ballistic missile, the Hwasong-17.

The regime claims to have test-fired the missile last month, in its first full-range ICBM test in four years.

This is disputed by South Korea, which says it actually launched a smaller missile after failing to launch the Hwasong-17.

However, the missile fired on March 24 flew longer and higher than any other missile North Korea has previously launched - raising fears about North Korea’s ability to strike targets as far away as the US mainland.

Both US and South Korean officials believe there are signs of new construction at North Korea’s only known nuclear test site, which has been officially closed since 2018, which could suggest a return to testing of nuclear weapons.

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