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North Korea approves new frontline military tasks amid tensions


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SEOUL, South Korea – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un doubled his nuclear weapons buildup in the face of “hostile forces” as he wrapped up a key military meeting in the capital Pyongyang where officials approved new operational tasks unspecified for front-line army units.

North Korean state media said on Friday that members of the ruling Workers’ Party’s Central Military Commission had decided to complete an “important military action plan” to the operational tasks of frontline army units. and take further steps to strengthen the country’s nuclear war deterrent at a three-day meeting that ended on Thursday.

North Korea has not specified new operational tasks for frontline units, but analysts say the country may consider deploying nuclear weapons to the battlefield targeting rival South Korea along its border. tense.

At the meeting, Kim called on his entire army to “pull out all the stops” to implement the plans to build up the nation’s military muscle and consolidate “powerful self-defense capabilities to crush all hostile forces and thus reliably protect the dignity of the great country”. ”

The report by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency did not include any direct criticism of Washington or Seoul amid a prolonged stalemate in nuclear talks.

Shaking off an old pattern of precariousness, North Korea has already set an annual ballistic test record in the first half of 2022, firing around 30 missiles in more than 18 launch events, including its first tests involving intercontinental ballistic missiles. in nearly five years.

Kim punctuated his recent tests with repeated comments that North Korea would proactively use its nuclear weapons when threatened or provoked, which experts say portends an escalating nuclear doctrine that could create greater concern for neighbours.

While Kim’s ICBMs are attracting a lot of international attention, North Korea since 2019 has also expanded its arsenal of short-range solid-fuel missiles threatening South Korea. The North describes some of these missiles as “tactical” weapons, which experts say communicate a threat to arm them with smaller nuclear bombs on the battlefield and use them proactively in conventional warfare to blunt stronger conventional forces from South Korea and the United States. About 28,500 American troops are stationed in the South to deter northern aggression.

North Korea’s apparent push to deploy nuclear weapons to the battlefield in frontline units had been planned since April, when Kim oversaw a test of a new short-range missile that US media said state, would “significantly” improve the firepower of front-line artillery units and “improve the operational efficiency of tactical nuclear weapons.”

Experts say North Korea’s unusually fast pace of testing activity this year underscores Kim’s dual intent to advance its arsenal and pressure Washington over a long-stalled nuclear diplomacy. The talks have stalled since early 2019 over disagreements over the exchange of the release of crippling US-led sanctions against the North and the North’s disarmament measures.

Kim has shown no intention of fully giving up an arsenal that he considers his best guarantee of survival. His pressure campaign aims to force the United States to accept the idea of ​​the North as a nuclear power and to negotiate economic and security concessions from a position of strength, experts say.

The recent military meeting came amid signs that North Korea is preparing to carry out its first nuclear test since September 2017, when it claimed to have detonated a thermonuclear weapon that could be tipped over its ICBMs.

Experts say North Korea could use its next nuclear test to claim it has acquired the ability to build a small nuclear warhead to fit its short-range missiles or other weapons it has recently acquired. tested, including a purported hypersonic missile and a long-range cruise missile. Smaller warheads would also be needed for the North’s declared pursuit of a multiple-warhead ICBM.

washingtonpost

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