On an anniversary known for military showmanship, North Korean generals on Thursday declared that their forces were ready to launch intercontinental ballistic missiles and kamikazelike nuclear attacks at the United States if threatened.
“Stalwart pilots, once given a sortie order, will load nuclear bombs, instead of fuel for return, and storm enemy strongholds to blow them up,” the North’s official Korean Central News Agency quoted its Air and Anti-Air Force commander, Ri Pyong-chol, as saying during a ceremony in observance of the anniversary of the founding of the North Korean People’s Army.
Another general, Kim Rak-gyom, the Strategic Rocket Force commander, reiterated the claim that the North is “one click away from pushing the launch button.”
“If the U.S. imperialists and their followers dare make a pre-emptive attack, they will be made to keenly realize what a real nuclear war and real retaliatory blows are like,” he said.
Threats to launch nuclear strikes and warnings of “nuclear holocaust” have become common since the country’s latest nuclear test, its third, in February. Although North Korea is believed to have a small nuclear weapons arsenal, most analysts doubt it could follow through on threats to deliver them to the United States by missile.
One American intelligence agency recently said it had “moderate confidence” that the North had mastered the technology of building a weapon that could fit on a missile warhead, but the Obama administration said that was not the consensus among the United States’ 15 other intelligence agencies. Most analysts believe that Kim Jong-un, the North’s leader, is using the nuclear bluster to consolidate the support of his people and bolster his leverage in dealing with Washington and its allies.
The threatening statements come after days of relative quiet that followed weeks of warnings of dire consequences if the United States and South Korea provoked the North. Mr. Kim’s government was already angered by United Nations sanctions punishing it for the nuclear test in February and by particularly robust joint exercises by the American and South Korea militaries.
The timing of the latest threats appeared to be tied to the military anniversary. North Korea’s military, the backbone of Mr. Kim’s dynastic rule, has traditionally used the date to swear its loyalty to the Kim family and vent its anti-American vitriol.