North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un promised to speed up development of its nuclear arsenal as the country staged a huge military parade that displayed intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and other weapons, state media reported on Tuesday.
The parade on Monday night was part of celebrations for the 90th anniversary of the country's armed forces, state news agency KCNA said.
North Korea has stepped up weapons tests and displays of military power in recent months, with US and South Korean officials saying there are signs of new construction at North Korea's only known nuclear test site.
The site has been officially closed since 2018, Reuters reported, suggesting Pyongyang may be preparing to resume testing nuclear weapons.
“The nuclear forces of our Republic should be fully prepared to fulfil their responsible mission and put their unique deterrent in motion at any time,” Mr Kim told the gathering, according to KCNA.
The parade featured North Korea's largest known ICBM, the Hwasong-17, KCNA reported. The massive missile was test fired for the first time last month, but officials in South Korea believe efforts to conduct a full test ended in an explosion over Pyongyang.
North Korea's Rodong Sinmun newspaper released photos showing the Hwasong-17, as well as what appeared to be hypersonic missiles and submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), among other weapons on trucks and launching vehicles rolling by crowds of flag-waving observers and participants.
The procession also included rows of conventional weapons such as artillery, rocket launchers and prototype tanks, plus tens of thousands of goose-stepping troops shouting “long life” to Mr Kim.
North Korea's ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programmes are banned by United Nations Security Council resolutions, which have imposed sanctions on the country.
The fundamental mission of the North's nuclear force is to deter war, but its use “can never be confined to the single mission,” Mr Kim said.
“If any forces try to violate the fundamental interests of our state, our nuclear forces will have to decisively accomplish its unexpected second mission,” he said.
Hong Min, a senior fellow at the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul, said Kim's speech could signal a change in his nuclear doctrine to leave open the possibility of “nuclear first use”, after previously confining their purpose to deterrence and defence, Reuters reported.
“Though he did not specify what makes the 'second mission' or 'fundamental interests', he indicated more broadly that the nuclear force might be used preemptively, not only when they're under attack, but also under certain circumstances,” Mr Hong said.