North Korean leader Kim Jong Un sees nuclear weapons and missiles as the key to his regime's survival and is looking to gain regional dominance, a new U.S. intelligence assessment said. File Photo by KCNA/UPI | License Photo
SEOUL, March 8 (UPI) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has no intention of abandoning his nuclear and long-range missile plans and is aiming to achieve "strategic dominance over South Korean and U.S. forces in the region," according to a new U.S. intelligence report.
"[Kim] is continuing efforts to enhance North Korea's nuclear and conventional capabilities targeting the United States and its allies, which will enable periodic aggressive actions to try to reshape the regional security environment in his favor," the 2023 Annual Threat Assessment said.
Pyongyang is "prioritiz[ing] efforts to build an increasingly capable missile force designed to evade U.S. and regional missile defenses," the report, released Wednesday by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, assessed.
The secretive regime "probably is preparing to test a nuclear device to further its stated military modernization goals," it added.
Intelligence officials highlighted Russia and China as the top threats to the United States in the report and in testimony on Capitol Hill on Wednesday
Kim has moved closer to Beijing and Moscow in an effort to "secure North Korea's position in what he perceives to be an international environment conducive to his brutal authoritarian system," the ODNI report said.
Tensions have grown on the Korean Peninsula since nuclear negotiations between North Korea and the United States ended without an agreement at a February 2019 summit.
Pyongyang launched around 70 ballistic missiles last year and has continued with several weapons tests throughout the first months of 2023.
Over the past six months, North Korea has timed its launches to coincide with joint U.S.-South Korea military drills, the threat assessment noted.
"Pyongyang probably wants the alliance to decrease the pace and scale of the exercises with the ultimate goal of undermining the strength of the alliance," it said.
The United States and South Korea will kick off their massive Freedom Shield joint military exercise next week, consisting of live field drills and computer-simulation command post training on a scale not seen in five years
North Korea warned last month of "unprecedentedly persistent and strong counteractions" to the upcoming exercise.
While Pyongyang remains under heavy U.N. Security Council sanctions, it has helped fund its nuclear and missile programs through cybercrimes such as cryptocurrency theft and ransomware attacks on businesses and hospitals.
The annual intelligence report assessed that the North will increasingly turn to illicit activities such as cybertheft to develop its weapons program, which remains a critical priority for the Kim regime.
"Kim almost certainly views nuclear weapons and ICBMs as the ultimate guarantor of his autocratic rule and has no intention of abandoning those programs, believing that over time he will gain international acceptance as a nuclear power," the ODNI report concluded.