North Korean leader Kim Jong Un vowed Sunday to “exponentially” increase the number of nuclear weapons in his country and further advance his antagonistic intercontinental ballistic missile program.
Kim delivered the message after a meeting of his ruling party this weekend, declaring South Korea the country’s “undoubted enemy” and amping up his aggressive posture amid a slate of recent missile launches that will likely set the tone for the year. North Korea followed up those statements with a test of short-range ballistic missiles on New Year’s Day that Kim said could reach anywhere in South Korea.
The efforts are largely seen as an attempt by Kim to force the international community to negotiate with North Korea and offer legitimacy to his government. The country is still subject to harsh economic and diplomatic sanctions and has been deeply impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol responded to the threat this weekend with a firm statement of his own, saying Seoul would punish any provocations to prevent a war on the peninsula. Yoon has taken a much harder line on the North than his predecessor, Moon Jae-in, calling the South’s northern neighbor a “principal enemy.”
“Our military should certainly punish any enemy provocations with a firm determination not to avoid going to war,” Yoon said, per Yonhap News. “I call on you to bear in mind that our troops’ firm mental readiness posture and realistic training can only guarantee strong security.”
North Korea fired about 70 ballistic missiles in 2022, Yonhap reported, the most in a single year. Speculation has grown that the country could conduct a nuclear test in the coming months, what would be its first in years and a guaranteed uptick in international tensions.
“As we greet the New Year, we urge North Korea to come out onto a path for peace on the Korean Peninsula and common prosperity for Koreans rather than sticking to a wrong path,” the South Korean military said in a statement Monday.