North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was shown surrounded by army generals and senior officers on Monday, marking the anniversary of the Korean War armistice. “We have walked down the path of self-development as a nuclear state,” Kim told the generals, adding, “Nuclear deterrence will permanently guarantee the security and future of the country.” The North Korean leader has made it clear once again that he has no intention of giving up nuclear weapons by mentioning the word “nuclear” in addition to his comment on “nuclear war deterrence” at a key military meeting on July 18.
There is nothing new about Kim’s mention of “nuclear state.” North Korea proclaims itself a nuclear state in its constitution. The nuclear state comment made on the anniversary of the Korean War armistice this time is likely to be aimed at strengthening solidarity within the country. But it is noteworthy that the words “nuclear state” and “nuclear deterrence,” which had not been used by the North Korean leader since 2018, were spoken by Kim Jong Un himself. It appears North Korea has decided to scrap the dialogue approach and reveal its ambition to be recognized as a nuclear state. This has raised the possibility of a large-scale provocation by North Korea aimed at cementing its status as a nuclear state.
Kim’s comment is also targeted at the U.S. presidential election, which is slated to take place in November, and its afterwards. North Korea has not given up on having a surprise October meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump but the possibility of a meeting is diminishing due to prolonged COVID-19 pandemic and escalating tensions between the U.S. and China. Therefore, Kim’s nuclear comment can be seen as a warning message to President Trump, which suggests that there will be another nuclear and missile provocation prior to the U.S. presidential election if Trump does not come to an agreement with Kim like he did in Hanoi in 2019.
Furthermore, Kim’s warning message is also targeted at what comes after the U.S. election if Trump fails to win reelection. Former national security advisor Susan Rice, who said in 2017 that the U.S. can “tolerate” North Korea’s nuclear weapons if necessary, is often being brought up as a candidate for Joe Biden’s running mate. It appears North Korea revealed its intention of entering into a nuclear disarmament deal with the U.S. as a nuclear state.
North Korea is estimated to have at least 50 nuclear warheads. It is only a matter of time that North Korea secures second-strike capability if it completes its submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM). But the U.S. will hardly fall for North Korea’s cheap tricks. What Rice argued in 2017 was to put North Korea under pressure by isolating and imposing sanctions instead of taking rash military actions against the country. North Korea will face complete isolation and hunger if it attempts to turn the clock back to three years ago.