The North Korean parliament has today endorsed plans to give nuclear weapons greater prominence in the country’s defences.
North Korea’s move came a day after the ruling Workers’ Party called for nuclear forces to be “expanded and beefed up qualitatively and quantitatively”.
North Korea has said it is entering a “state of war” with the South – prompting Seoul to promise a “strong response” to aggression by the North.
North Korea’s parliament has endorsed plans to give nuclear weapons greater prominence in the country’s defences
Meanwhile, North Korea has announced it has appointed a new premier, Pak Pong-ju. He was sacked from the same post in 2007.
North Korea’s Supreme People’s Assembly convened on Monday for a day-long annual session. It normally focuses on making economic decisions.
But state news agency KCNA said the body had “unanimously adopted an ordinance that provides for giving nuclear weapons greater prominence in the defence of the country”.
The law reads that North Korea’s nuclear weapons are a “means of defence” and serve the purpose of “dealing deadly retaliatory blows at the strongholds of aggression until the world is denuclearized”.
On Sunday the Workers’ Party Central Committee held a rare high-level meeting in which it described nuclear weapons as “the nation’s life”.
“The DPRK [North Korea]’s possession of nuclear weapons should be fixed by law and the nuclear armed forces should be expanded and beefed up qualitatively and quantitatively,” a KCNA report on the meeting said.
“The People’s Army should perfect the war method and operation in the direction of raising the pivotal role of the nuclear armed forces in all aspects concerning war deterrence and war strategy.”
In the last few days North Korea has issued multiple warnings of attacks on US and South Korean targets – to which the US has responded with an apparent show of military hardware.
Speaking to defence officials on Monday, South Korean President Park Geun-hye said that she took the series of threats from Pyongyang “very seriously”.
South Korea has pledged a “strong response” to North Korea’s aggressions, amid high tensions on the peninsula.
Speaking to defence officials on Monday, President Park Geun-hye said that she took the series of threats from Pyongyang “very seriously”.
North Korea announced on Saturday that it was entering a “state of war” with South Korea.
On Sunday, the US sent stealth fighters to South Korea, as North Korea pledged to build up its nuclear arsenal.
South Korea has pledged a “strong response” to North Korea’s aggressions, amid high tensions on the peninsula
“If there is any provocation against South Korea and its people, there should be a strong response in initial combat without any political considerations,” President Park Geun-hye said.
In recent days North Korea has issued multiple warnings of attacks on US and South Korean targets – to which the US has responded with an apparent show of military hardware.
North Korea has been angered both by UN sanctions imposed after its nuclear test in February and the joint US-South Korea annual
The US flew F-22 planes from Japan to South Korea’s Osan Air base on Sunday, as part of ongoing joint military exercises with South Korea, officials said.
“[North Korea] will achieve nothing by threats or provocations, which will only further isolate North Korea and undermine international efforts to ensure peace and stability in Northeast Asia,” the US military command in South Korea said in a statement reported by Reuters news agency.
In March, the US deployed both B-2 and B-52 planes, which have nuclear capabilities, over South Korea. It said this demonstrated its “capability… to provide extended deterrence to [its] allies in the Asia-Pacific region”.
It is not the first time F-22s have been used drills with South Korea, but the move came as North Korea’s Central Committee held a rare high-level meeting on Sunday.
The committee described nuclear weapons as “the nation’s life” and vowed to further develop its nuclear programme, state-run news agency KCNA said.
“Only when the nuclear shield for self-defence is held fast, will it be possible to shatter the US imperialists’ ambition for annexing the Korean Peninsula by force,” the report added.
North Korea’s Supreme People’s Assembly – the rubber-stamp parliament – is also due to convene on Monday for a day-long annual session.
While the group normally focuses on making economic decisions, this meeting will be keenly watched given the current high tension.
Few think North Korea – which last week cut a military hotline which was the last official direct link with Seoul – would risk full-blown conflict.
But in recent years there have been deadly incidents such as the sinking of a South Korea warship (in which Pyongyang denies any role) and the shelling of a South Korean island.
However, the jointly-run Kaesong industrial park, which is located within North Korea’s borders, remains in operation.
Workers from South Korea were crossing into the park – which is a key money-maker for North Korea – as normal on Monday, reports said.
Kaesong Industrial Complex is seen as a barometer of North-South tensions, observers say, and a move to close it would be seen as an escalation of current tensions.
North Korea has declared “state of war” against South Korea in its latest escalation of rhetoric against its neighbour and the US.
A statement promised “stern physical actions” against “any provocative act”.
North Korea has threatened attacks almost daily after it was sanctioned for a third nuclear test in February.
North Korea has declared “state of war” against South Korea in its latest escalation of rhetoric against its neighbour and the US
However, few think the North would risk full-blown conflict, and the two sides have technically been at war since 1953 as no peace treaty has been signed.
An armistice at the end of the Korean War was never turned into a full treaty.
North Korea carried out its third nuclear test on February 12, which led to the imposition of fresh sanctions.
The annual US-South Korean military exercises have also taken place, angering Pyongyang further.
Many analysts believe that all-out war with South Korea and its ally the United States would be suicidal for the North, says the BBC’s Lucy Williamson in Seoul.
But with both sides threatening heavy retaliation, there’s a chance of minor incidents escalating, our correspondent adds.
A North Korean statement released on Saturday said: “From this time on, the North-South relations will be entering the state of war and all issues raised between the North and the South will be handled accordingly.
“The long-standing situation of the Korean peninsula being neither at peace nor at war is finally over.”
In Washington, Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, said the US had “seen reports of a new and unconstructive statement from North Korea”.
“We take these threats seriously and remain in close contact with our South Korean allies,” she said.
North Korea has made multiple threats against both the US and South Korea in recent weeks, including warning of a “pre-emptive nuclear strike” on the US and the scrapping of the Korean War armistice.
On Thursday, North Korean state media reported leader Kim Jong-un “judged the time has come to settle accounts with the US imperialists”.
Kim Jong un was said to have condemned US B-2 bomber sorties over South Korea during military exercises as a “reckless phase” that represented an “ultimatum that they will ignite a nuclear war at any cost on the Korean peninsula”.
US mainland and bases in Hawaii, Guam and South Korea were all named as potential targets.
State media in the North showed thousands of soldiers and students at a mass rally in Pyongyang supporting Kim Jong-un’s announcement
North Korea’s most advanced missiles are thought to be able to reach Alaska, but not the rest of the US mainland.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the rhetoric only deepened North Korea’s isolation.
China, North Korea’s biggest trading partner, has reiterated its call for all sides to ease tensions.
Foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a daily news conference that “joint efforts” should be made to turn around a “tense situation”.
Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov went further, voicing concern that “we may simply let the situation slip out of our control”.
“We are concerned that… unilateral action is being taken around North Korea that is increasing military activity,” he said.
On March 16, North Korea warned of attacks against South Korea’s border islands, and advised residents to leave the islands.
In 2010, North Korea shelled South Korea’s Yeonpyeong island, causing four deaths.
Ten facts could paint the big picture of North Korea’s isolation from the international community.
1. High militarized area
The border between North and South Korea is one of the most militarized areas in the world, according to the State Department, with a combined total of almost two million military personnel under the control of Pyongyang (1.2 million), Seoul (680,000) and foreign powers including the United States (28,000). North Korean arms outnumber those in the South by about two to one, including offensive weapons such as tanks, long-range artillery, aircraft and armored personnel carriers. However, much of the military equipment in North Korea is obsolete.
2. Still at war
Both sides are technically in a state of war, after a ceasefire halted the Korean War more than 50 years ago. Tensions reached their highest levels in years in 2010 with the torpedoing of a South Korean warship, resulting in the deaths of 46 sailors. The South blamed the attack on Pyongyang, but North denied responsibility. Later that year, the North bombarded a South Korean island, the first such attack against civilian target since the 1950-53 Korean War.
3. 51 social categories
North Korea groups its citizens into 51 social categories, graded by loyalty to the regime, according to The Economist. Of those groups, 29 are considered to make up a mostly rural underclass that is hostile or at best ambivalent towards the regime.
4. Gourmet cuisine, starvation
Late dictator Kim Jong-Il had a taste for cigars, cognac and gourmet cuisine, while four in five of North Korean children suffer from malnutrition because food is poorly distributed. In March 2011, the World Food Programme (WFP) estimated that 6 million North Koreans needed food aid and a third of children were chronically malnourished or stunted daily potato rations have been cut by a third, to two for each person.
5. At least two inches shorter
Analysis of escapees from North Korea shows that those born after the partitioning of the Korean Peninsula in the North were consistently about two inches shorter than their counterparts in the South, according to a 2004 report in Economics and Human Biology. The minimum height for recruitment to the North Korean army is reported to have fallen by just under an inch. The well-nourished Kim Jong-Un was fit enough to have been a keen basketball player while at school in Switzerland, according to fellow students.
Kim Jong-Un was kept from public view until September 2010, when he was 27 years old and appeared with his father Kim Jong-Il
6. Secret children
Kim Jong-Un was kept from public view until September 2010, when he was 27 years old. The existence of his eldest brother, who was passed over in Kim Jong-Il’s succession, was hidden completely from grandfather Kim Il-Sung until his death in 1994.
7. “Clairvoyant wisdom”
North Korea is famous for its colorful use of language, praising its leaders and denouncing its critics. The statement announcing Kim Jong -Il’s death ran to 1,500 words, and was addressed to “All Party Members, Servicepersons and People”. It praised his “clairvoyant wisdom” and said he had “put the dignity and power of the nation on the highest level and ushered in the golden days of prosperity unprecedented in the nation’s history.” It concluded: “Arduous is the road for our revolution to follow and grim is the present situation. But no force on earth can check the revolutionary advance of our party, army and people under the wise leadership of Kim Jong-Un.”
8. China crucial
North Korea’s survival depends on crucial trade with China: in 2010, trade between the two was worth an estimated $3.5 billion, up nearly 30% from 2009.
9. What a golfer!
Kim Jong-Il piloted jet fighters, according to the country’s propaganda machine, even though he traveled by land for his infrequent trips abroad, reputedly because he was nervous about flying. He penned operas, had a photographic memory, produced movies and accomplished a feat unmatched in the annals of professional golf, shooting 11 holes-in-one on the first round he ever played — if North Korea is to be believed.
10. War, war or jaw, jaw?
Despite the regular tensions, at least one expert thinks the North and South have too much to lose from a full-scale military conflict. Dr. Jim Hoare, a British former diplomat who served in the country, said both sides had “gone to the brink of conflict several times” but stopped short.
“Seoul [20 miles from the border] is a vulnerable city and the North would face annihilation.”