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North Korea’s Kim vows more missiles, more nukes in 2023

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North Korea’s 2023 is already looking like a rerun of 2022, as Pyongyang test-fired missiles on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day and vowed to increase its nuclear arsenal.

According to North Korean media monitored by agencies in Seoul, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un told a meeting of his ruling Workers Party of the need for an “exponential” increase in atomic arms, as well as a new intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM. After a string of weapons tests in 2022, U.S. and South Korean officials have been braced for what they fear will be the North’s first nuclear weapons test in six years.

Separately,South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said that North Korea test-fired one ballistic missile on Sunday, following the launch of three the previous day. It is not clear whether those projectiles were fired from a new, nuclear-capable 600mm multiple-launch rocket system referred to by Pyongyang’s state media.

In his remarks to top security officials late last week, Mr. Kim demanded “redoubled efforts to overwhelmingly beef up the military muscle,” calling the U.S. a “hostile force” and South Korea an “undoubted enemy.” He spoke of “the necessity of mass-producing tactical nuclear weapons” and “an exponential increase of the country’s nuclear arsenal.”

“Our nuclear force considers it as the first mission to deter war and safeguard peace and stability and, however, if it fails to deter, it will carry out the second mission, which will not be for defense,” he added, according to the South Korean reports.

The mission of the new ICBM is a “quick nuclear counter-strike.” North Korea first tested an ICBM with the range to hit the U.S. mainland in 2017, setting off a fierce standoff with the Trump administration.

Mr. Kim, who for the fourth consecutive year skipped the traditional New Year’s Day public address Sunday, also demanded a spy satellite.

In a statement, Seoul’s Unification Ministry slammed the North’s “obsession” with weapons of mass destruction, which it said came at the expense of the welfare of ordinary North Koreans..

But Mr. Kim is not alone in boosting his forces: Northeast Asia is engaged in an accelerating arms race, with U.S. allies and adversaries bulking up to unprecedented levels.

China continues to add capabilities in all military domains, while militarizing South China Sea reefs and islets. Taiwan last week announced that it was extending conscription times for military recruits, and is set to receive $10 billion under a new military aid package just approved in Washington.

The government of Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has vowed to double its defense budget by 2028, and on December 16, revealed plans to acquire a cruise missile “counterstrike” capability — the latest dramatic shift away from its constitutionally-mandated pacifist defense policy.

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