This past Saturday in Pyongyang Kim Jong-un spoke with the North Korean Worker’s Party Congress for the first time in 36 years. The meeting left many people scratching their heads.
During the Congress session, Kim told thousands of delegates from around the country that North Korea is a “responsible nuclear weapons state,” one that would only use nuclear weapons if provoked first by an outside force. Kim also claimed that Pyongyang would fulfill its non-proliferation policies, pushing for global denuclearization, though North Korea alone withdrew from the global Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) when it was signed in 2003.
The statement appears anomalous to Kim’s recent operations. North Korea accelerated its nuclear program and even issued warnings of nuclear strikes against South Korea and the United States in the past year. It has consistently pursued nuclear tests, though insisted that Pyongyang would never initiate nuclear weapon use.
According to Alexandre Mansourov, an expert on North Korea, “The survival of the ruling Kim family is intimately linked to nuclear arms because they help legitimize Kim Jong-Un’s hereditary rule and keep his foreign foes at bay.” Kim’s chief policy in office has been “byungjin,” North Korea’s determination to pursue the development of nuclear weapons while also developing its economy.
Kim’s constant push towards developing a stronger nuclear program has had repercussions. China recently denounced North Korea’s alleged development of nuclear arms. Some say Kim called the Congress session in an attempt to rebuild North Korea’s fractured relationship with China and boost the North Korean economy.
It is still unclear how effective the Worker’s Party meeting was, but it is clear that North Korea is not ready to give up its nuclear program. This past Saturday, satellite images showed activity at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site. Although it is impossible to tell what Kim is planning for North Korea, he seems to be steering the nation towards a new trajectory.