North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ordered his military on standby for nuclear strikes at any time, state media reported Friday, an escalation in rhetoric targeting rivals Seoul and Washington that may not yet reflect the country’s actual nuclear capacity.
The threats are part of the authoritarian government’s ramped-up propaganda push to signal strength at home and abroad in the face of what it portrays as an effort by South Korea and the United States to overthrow its leadership.
In a show of anger over the recent adoption of harsh UN sanctions over its recent nuclear test and long-range rocket launch, the North fired off short-range projectiles into the sea Thursday. Friday’s report also comes ahead of huge US-South Korean war games set to start next week that the North claims are invasion preparations, and amid a much harder line from rival Seoul meant to squeeze Pyongyang.
“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,” a dispatch from the North’s official Korean Central News Agency said, paraphrasing Kim. It said Kim stressed “the need to get the nuclear warheads deployed for national defence always on standby so as to be fired any moment.”
North Korea has threatened nuclear war in the past, but it is unclear just how advanced the country’s nuclear programme really is. Pyongyang is thought to have a handful of likely crude atomic bombs, but there is considerable outside debate about the state of its arsenal.