ASIAN SECURITYIs North Korea Preparing for War in 2024?

By Julian Ryall

Published 16 January 2024

North Korea’s Kim Jong Un is ratcheting up the war rhetoric against South Korea and the US once again. This time, however, analysts warn the threat goes beyond the usual bluster.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ended 2023 with a fiery policy speech to the Communist Party leadership, dispensing with the possibility of peaceful reunification with South Korea while characterizing the relationship as “between two hostile countries and two belligerents at war,” state-run news agency KCNA reported.

Kim called for the “exponential” expansion of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal and a ramp-up of ballistic missile testing. He also pledged to launch three new spy satellites.

In the speech, Kim accused South Korea and the United States of “reckless moves” in preparation for “invasion” and warned that a “war can break out at any time on the Korean peninsula.”

North Korea launched a record number of missiles in 2023, including what it claimed in December to be a nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that could reach anywhere in the US. It also launched a rocket in late 2023 that put a spy satellite into orbit.

In its latest launch on Sunday, the North said it successfully fired an intermediate-range hypersonic ballistic missile.

On January 6, Seoul said the North fired at least 60 artillery rounds into waters close to South Korea’s Yeonpyeong Island at the sea border off the west coast of the peninsula. 

Additionally, US satellites have detected the modernization and expansion of the North Korean Manpho Unha Chemical Complex, linked to the production of chemicals used for missile fuel and reagents for nuclear weapons. 

In December, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported that a second nuclear reactor is operational at Yongbyon and could be used to produce weapons-grade fuel.

Korean Situation “Most Dangerous” in Decades
recent article published by 38 North, a North Korea analysis website run by the Washington-based Stimson Center think tank, has warned that Kim’s latest moves may go beyond the usual bluster.

Robert Carlin, a former head of the Northeast Asia Division at the US State Department, and Siegfried Hecker, a professor of nonproliferation studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterrey, warn that the security situation on the Korean Peninsula is “more dangerous than it has been at any time since early June 1950,” when the Korean War broke out.

That may sound overly dramatic, but we believe that, like his grandfather in 1950, Kim Jong Un has made a strategic decision to go to war,” the authors said.