North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said his country has a policy of not hesitating to launch a nuclear strike on its rivals if provoked, state media reported.
It comes as he praised troops involved in the country’s recent intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) test.
Since adopting an escalatory nuclear doctrine last year, Mr Kim has repeatedly threatened to use nuclear weapons pre-emptively. But many foreign experts say North Korea has yet to obtain functioning nuclear missiles and is also unlikely to use its nukes first because it is outgunned by the US and its allied forces.
North Korea on Monday conducted its first ICBM test in five months, calling the drill a warning over confrontational US and South Korean moves. North Korea cited a recent US-South Korean meeting on boosting their nuclear deterrence plans.
The North’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said Mr Kim met troops from the general missile bureau on Wednesday to congratulate them on the launch of the developmental solid-fuelled Hwasong-18 missile, the North’s newest and most powerful ICBM.
During the meeting, Mr Kim said the launch demonstrated the evolution of the North’s nuclear doctrine and strategy “not to hesitate even with a nuclear attack when the enemy provokes it with nukes”, KCNA said.
Mr Kim said peace is guaranteed by a war posture of being willing to launch pre-emptive strikes on the enemy anywhere to make it feel fear, KCNA said.
Last year, North Korea adopted a law that stipulates a broad range of situations in which it can use nuclear weapons. Since the beginning of 2022, it has also test-fired about 100 ballistic missiles, many of them nuclear-capable weapons targeting the US and South Korea.
Monday’s Hwasong-18 launch was the weapon’s third test-flight this year.
The US and South Korean governments have repeatedly warned that any attempt by North Korea to use nuclear weapons would result in the end of the Kim Jong Un government.
The allies have also expanded their military training, which Mr Kim views as invasion rehearsal.
After the North’s latest ICBM launch, the US, South Korea and Japan began sharing real-time missile warning data on North Korea and established details of their trilateral exercises in the coming years.
On Wednesday, the US flew long-range B-1B bombers for joint aerial training with South Korean and Japanese warplanes in a demonstration of strength against North Korea.
In an emergency UN Security Council meeting on Tuesday, the US, South Korea and their partners maintained that North Korea’s repeated missile launches threatened international peace and violated Security Council resolutions that ban any ballistic activities by North Korea.
Mr Kim’s sister and senior official, Kim Yo Jong, said in a statement on Thursday she “feels very unpleasant” over the UN council meeting, which she said was held at “the brigandish demand of the US and its satellite countries”.
She said the UN council must hold the US and South Korea accountable for heightened tensions as they stage “all sorts of military provocations all year round”.
The North’s latest ICBM launch will not likely earn the country fresh international sanctions. China and Russia — locked in separate confrontations with the US — have repeatedly blocked any UN Security Council responses to the North’s banned ballistic missile tests since last year.
In a joint statement released on Thursday, the top diplomats from South Korea, the US and Japan said the North’s ICBM and other recent missile launches serve as a reminder of the need for all countries to fully implement North Korea-related UN Security Council resolutions that prohibit the country from acquiring technologies and materials to advance its unlawful missile programme.
The statement said the three countries will work closely with the international community to block the North’s efforts to finance its weapons programmes through the exploitation of overseas workers and malicious cyber activities.
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