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North Korea Amends Constitution to Enshrine Permanent Growth of Nuclear Arsenal

North Korea enshrined its policy of exponentially growing its nuclear forces into its constitution, in a show of defiance to U.S. requests to return to stalled talks through which Pyongyang could secure economic aid in exchange for disarmament.

Leader Kim Jong Un told a session of the Supreme People’s Assembly — its rubber-stamp legislature — he was making the move to counter threats from the U.S. and its partners to stifle Pyongyang’s atomic ambitions and destroy its system.

“The DPRK’s nuclear force-building policy has been made permanent as the basic law of the state, which no one is allowed to flout with anything,” Kim was quoted Thursday as saying by the state’s Korean Central News Agency, which referred to the country by its formal name.

Kim also stressed “the need to push ahead with the work for exponentially boosting the production of nuclear weapons and diversifying the nuclear strike means and deploying them in different services,” KCNA said. His speech appears to have coincided with his country’s decision to expel U.S. soldier Travis King, who entered North Korea without permission in July.

The North Korean leader began the year with a fresh threat to dramatically expand North Korea’s nuclear arsenal, implying plans to boost output at an unprecedented pace.

Read More: Tracking All of North Korea’s Missile Tests This Year So Far

He has also unveiled new systems to deliver nuclear strikes since then, including the launching this month of a submarine his nation said was capable of tactical nuclear attacks. South Korea’s military expressed doubts about the capabilities of the vessel.

While Kim has repeatedly surprised his doubters with the expansion of his missile program, his heavily sanctioned state appears to lack the domestic capacity to quickly double, triple or quadruple his production of weapons-grade uranium and plutonium. At best, he might hope to ratchet up his output of fissile material, which non-proliferation experts estimate could be used to arm about a half dozen bombs each year.

Kim just returned from a trip to Russia where he met President Vladimir Putin and toured an array of weapons plants. The U.S. has accused Kim of supplying munitions to help the Kremlin’s war machine in its assault on Ukraine.

The trip raised the possibility that North Korea might be looking at technology transfers of dual-use materials that could be delivered under the guise of helping its civilian space and nuclear programs and still appear to be in accordance with international norms. But the materials could also be used to further North Korea’s ability to build missiles and nuclear bombs — in violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions.

Read More: Why China, Russia, and North Korea Joining Forces in the Indo-Pacific Isn’t a Prelude to War

Siegfried Hecker, a professor emeritus at Stanford University and one of the few American scientists who has participated in inspections of North Korea’s main nuclear facilities, said Russia could offer aid to Kim to get its long-planned experimental light water reactor operational under the premise of peaceful electric power generation.

“North Korea could then repurpose it for plutonium production,” he said in an interview with the 38 North specialist website. “For the shorter term, what concerns me most is Russia clandestinely supplying plutonium directly.”

This would allow North Korea to exponentially increase it stockpiles of the fissile material that could be used in weapons such as miniaturized warheads, he said. 

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