Kim Jong Un Orders Increased Missile Production Amid US-South Korean Drills
Meanwhile, US and South Korea To Conduct Joint Drills
In a move that heightens tensions in the Korean Peninsula, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has again toured major munitions factories, ordering a drastic increase in the production of missiles and other weapons. The order comes just as the South Korean and U.S. militaries announced the commencement of significant drills next week to sharpen their joint capabilities against the North's evolving nuclear threats.
Kim's Push For More Weapons Production
According to the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), Kim's visits to factories producing tactical missiles, mobile launch platforms, armored vehicles, and artillery shells took place on Friday and Saturday, August 11 and 12. During a stop at a missile factory, Kim aimed to "drastically boost" production capacity to mass-produce missiles to meet the frontline military units' needs.
Kim's focus on enhancing his nuclear and missile arsenals is not new. It has been his priority since high-stakes diplomacy with former U.S. President Donald Trump collapsed in 2019. The North Korean military has conducted over 100 missile tests since the beginning of 2022, often in response to the U.S. and South Korea's expansion of joint military training exercises.
The U.S.-South Korean Military Drills
The upcoming U.S.-South Korean drills, named Ulchi Freedom Shield, are part of a computer-simulated command post exercise set to run through August 31. This year, the allies plan to conduct large-scale field training events, reportedly the largest of their kind in recent years.
South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff spokesperson, Lee Sung Joon, emphasized that the drills aim to strengthen the allies' response capabilities by practicing scenarios that reflect North Korea's advancing nuclear and missile capabilities.
Potential Russian Involvement
The North Korean leader’s order for increased weapons production also comes amid U.S. officials' belief that Russia's defense minister recently talked with North Korea about selling more weapons to Russia for its war with Ukraine. North Korea has publicly supported Russia over the war, though it denied American claims of shipping artillery shells and ammunition to Russia.
Kim's Diplomatic Endeavors and Concerns at Home
Along with his focus on weapons production, Kim has been working to strengthen ties with China and Russia in response to U.S.-led pressure campaigns over its nuclear program and pandemic-related economic difficulties. On the domestic front, Kim has also addressed recent flooding due to Tropical Storm Khanun, criticizing local officials for failing to prevent farmland flooding.
An Uncertain Path Ahead
Kim Jong Un's call for an increase in weapons production reflects the ongoing uncertainty and tension in the Korean Peninsula. The U.S. and South Korean military exercises undoubtedly contribute to the North's aggressive stance, further complicating diplomatic efforts in the region.
The situation also draws attention to the intricate web of international relations, with potential involvement from Russia and ongoing attempts by North Korea to solidify relationships with China.