North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will attend the launching ceremony for a new tactical nuclear submarine on September 8, 2023, according to state media.
Seoul, South Korea CNN –
North Korea has amended its constitution to strengthen and expand its nuclear forces, with leader Kim Jong Un calling growing cooperation between the United States, South Korea and Japan “the worst real threat” to the isolated country.
The country’s rubber stamp parliament signed the law into North Korea’s constitution after two days of sessions, meaning its policy of strengthening its nuclear forces is now permanent, the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported on Thursday.
Although the move is largely symbolic, it reinforces North Korea’s view that the country is a perpetual nuclear power and that the idea of denuclearizing or giving up its weapons, a key demand of the United States and its Western allies, is not up for discussion.
It was passed by North Korea’s Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA), where leader Kim Jong Un addressed attendees, calling the move a “historic event that provided powerful political leverage” that strengthens national defense capabilities and protects national interests.
Kim also justified Pyongyang’s accelerated weapons development program by pointing to trilateral military cooperation between the United States, South Korea and Japan – which he called “the worst actual threat, not menacing rhetoric or an imaginary entity,” KCNA reported.
He added that the new law is “the most just and reasonable decisive step that fully meets not only the urgent needs of the current era but also the legality and long-term requirements of building a socialist country.”
Andrei Lankov, a professor and longtime North Korea expert at Kookmin University, said the new law “does not appear to be a significant new commitment.”
“They stated that North Korea would work to increase its nuclear weapons production. However, this is not surprising, as they nevertheless continuously pursue such activities,” Lankov said, adding that this “essentially reaffirmed North Korea’s long-standing official position.”
The KCNA report came just days after North Korea’s ambassador to the United Nations, Kim Song, addressed the UN General Assembly on Tuesday. The ambassador claimed that Pyongyang needed to expand its “self-defense capabilities” because of the “imminent threat” of nuclear war on the Korean peninsula and accused the US of expanding its influence in the region.
And earlier this month, Kim Jong Un met with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin during a six-day visit, alarming the West about the possibility of military cooperation between Moscow and Pyongyang.
Ahead of the trip, U.S. officials warned that North Korea could provide weapons to Russia to support its faltering invasion of Ukraine and, in return, receive help with its own nuclear weapons and missile programs.
During the meeting, Putin accepted Kim’s invitation to visit North Korea, according to the Kremlin. It was said that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov would also visit North Korea in October.
The latest constitutional change follows a similar move last year at an SPA meeting, where North Korea passed a bill declaring the country a nuclear weapons state.
At the time, Kim promised there would be no denuclearization or negotiations over it – and the new law appears to be the final nail in the coffin as relations between North Korea and its rivals have steadily deteriorated in recent years.
North Korea’s last nuclear test, its sixth to date, took place in 2017 amid increasing threats from Pyongyang and Washington. The test came just a month after then-President Donald Trump famously warned that any further threats from North Korea would be met with “fire and fury the likes of which the world has never seen.”
South Korea’s President Yoon Suk Yeol (left), President Joe Biden and Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida (right) meet at Camp David, the presidential retreat, near Thurmont, Maryland, Friday, August 18, 2023 (AP Photo /Andrew Harnik)
Biden’s call for a “new era of cooperation” with Japan and South Korea is likely to increase tensions with Beijing
The tests stopped in 2018 as the two leaders held talks and relations thawed, raising hopes of a possible deal on denuclearization. But after several summits between Trump and Kim – including an extraordinary moment in which Trump became the first sitting US leader to invade North Korea – talks collapsed and no agreement was reached.
The Covid-19 pandemic has also likely delayed the resumption of North Korea’s weapons development program, experts say – but 2022 saw a massive surge again: the country fired a record number of missiles and satellite images showed renewed activity at its underground nuclear test sites.
The tests have also led to the United States, South Korea and Japan moving closer together. The leaders of all three nations met at the Camp David retreat in Maryland earlier this summer, where they announced new military exercises and a new annual trilateral summit.
It ushered in a new “era of cooperation,” US President Joe Biden said after the summit – which was strongly condemned by Pyongyang after North Korean state media published images of Kim inspecting a missile test just days later.