Kim Jong Un Just Put Washington and Seoul on Notice

Kim Jong Un Just Put Washington and Seoul on Notice
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un delivers a speech during a year-end plenary meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party, in Pyongyang, North Korea, held between Dec. 26, and Dec. 30, 2023 (Korean Central News Agency photo via AP Images).

While the wars in Ukraine and Gaza continue to grab international attention, recent developments in Pyongyang suggest that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un may be getting ready for a military clash with the South. Since the 1980s, the North Korean government’s official line has been to call for peaceful unification and the formation of a confederal republic with South Korea. But at a Korean Workers’ Party meeting last month, Kim abandoned that long-standing policy and announced that unification with South Korea was now “impossible.” In a more recent speech, Kim referred to South Korea as the “number one hostile country.”

This substantial change in Pyongyang’s inter-Korean policy should not be regarded as mere bluster or rhetoric. It marks a significant and dangerous shift in North Korea’s posture toward the South.

Kim’s revision of North Korea’s unification policy comes after substantial military development and missile testing over the past several years. In 2022, the country tested more missiles than in any other previous year. Moreover, North Korea’s missile technology and delivery systems have become more sophisticated. Alongside these military enhancements, ties between Pyongyang and Moscow have deepened, with North Korea allegedly selling Russia over 1 million artillery shells as well as short-range ballistic missiles for the war in Ukraine. These military and diplomatic advancements seem to have made Kim more confident and aggressive in his relations with the South.

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