North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Friday ordered his military to be in "pre-emptive attack" footing, ready to use its nuclear weapons at any time, ratcheting up tensions after the U.N. Security Council imposed harsh new sanctions on Pyongyang for its nuclear program.
The official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) quoted Kim as stressing "the need to get the nuclear warheads deployed for national defense always on standby so as to be fired any moment.”
"Now is the time for us to convert our mode of military counteraction toward the enemies into a pre-emptive attack one in every aspect," he said as he supervised military exercises, according to KCNA.
The fresh torrent of hostile rhetoric was condemned by diplomats, while experts voiced doubts that North Korea has developed the capacity to miniaturize a nuclear warhead and put it on a missile that can reach the United States.
Inside North Korea, meanwhile, state media are reporting a groundswell of volunteers to join the nation’s military.
KCNA TV reported that more than 1.5 million North Korean youth voluntarily enlisted in response to a call from the military issued a month or more earlier than the normal April-May recruiting season, and that leader Kim Jong Un sent out ‘letter of appreciation’ for the volunteers.
“Senior-high students and collegians have pledged to hold the guns in order to protect the fatherland and to defend the revolution. Even the retired soldiers working in factories and farmlands not to mention a large number of KWP workers and youngsters have been asked to re-enlist to the active service,” said a recent state TV report.
Local sources told RFA’s Korean Service, however, said the students were in fact forcibly drafted.
“The central government instructed students and youngsters to hold pep rallies stressing the tense political situation surrounding the country,” a source in North Hamgyung Province told RFA on Tuesday.
“Who would want to join the military out of their own will if not for the order from the government?” the source asked.
The source added that under North Korea’s system, local authorities could only host such a rally with guidance from the central government, which dictates even the smallest details including the size and procedure of events encouraging voluntary enlistment.
The residents forcibly mobilized to those events in cold weather wouldn’t dare utter a word of complaint, the source said.
“The people have been struggling to complete their assignments under ’70-day Battle’ in preparation for the 7th Korean Workers Party Congress (in May), but their suffering has doubled or tripled due to the tense political situation,” the source added.
“Military recruiting, which normally occurs from April through May, started about a month earlier this year,” a second source in North Hamgyung Province told RFA.
“If you don’t join the military at a time they are being mobilized by the order from the top, you will be branded as reactionary, and you and your family will suffer,” added the source.
“That’s why 1.5 million people have joined the military” said the source.
Reported by Jieun Kim for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Hee Jung Yang. Written in English by Paul Eckert.