Leader Kim Jong-Un has ordered North Korea’s nuclear arsenal to be readied for use at any time, in an expected escalation of military rhetoric following the UN Security Council’s adoption of tough sanctions on Pyongyang.
“The North’s nuclear warheads must be on standby so as to be fired at any moment,” Kim was quoted as saying by the official KCNA news agency on Friday.
He also warned that the situation on the divided Korean peninsula had become so dangerous that the North needed to shift its military strategy to one of pre-emptive attack. Such bellicose rhetoric is almost routine for North Korea at times of elevated tensions.
While the North is known to have a small stockpile of nuclear warheads, experts are divided about its ability to mount them on a working missile delivery system. Washington downplayed Kim’s threat as posturing.
“We have not seen North Korea test or demonstrate the ability to miniaturise a nuclear weapon and put it on an intercontinental ballistic missile,” a US defence official said.
Still, the official added: “Our forces are ready to counter-eliminate strikes if necessary.”
In Seoul, President Park Geun-Hye promised South Korea would mete out “stern punishment” in the event of any North Korea provocation as she warned of a fiercer backlash than usual from Pyongyang over the latest UN sanctions.
According to KCNA, Kim made his comments while monitoring the test firing of a new, high-calibre multiple rocket launcher on Thursday, just hours after the UN Security Council unanimously adopted the US-drafted resolution, penalising the North for its fourth nuclear test in January and long-range rocket launch last month.
South Korea’s defence ministry said the North had fired half a dozen rockets about 100 to 150 kilometres into the sea off its eastern coast on Thursday.
In a clear threat to the South, Kim said the new rocket launcher should be “promptly deployed” along with other recently developed weaponry.
“In the wake of the gangster-like UN resolution pushed by the US and South Korea, North Koreans are waiting for an order of combat to annihilate the enemy with their surging wrath”, he added.
The resolution adopted late Wednesday laid out the toughest sanctions imposed on Pyongyang over its nuclear weapons programme and will apply significant economic pressure on Kim’s regime.
It breaks new ground by sanctioning specific sectors key to the North Korean economy such as mineral exports.