Will tensions between North and South Korea get even worse?

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South Korea called for joint nuclear exercises with the US on Monday, following another round of North Korean ballistic missile tests that capped a record-breaking 2022. Will tensions between the two Koreas escalate to the breaking point in 2023?

After a year marked by repeated North Korean missile tests, the start of 2023 is looking an awful lot like 2022 – with Pyongyang conducting yet another short-range missile test on January 1. This came after North Korea closed the year with three tests on New Year’s Eve.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un called on Sunday for an “exponential” increase in the country’s nuclear arsenal this year, including by mass producing nuclear-tipped missiles. In his speech, the North Korean dictator also explicitly described South Korea as a “target”.

This is very telling, said Christoph Bluth, an expert on the two Koreas at the University of Bradford, because Pyongyang historically avoided the term because it needed to maintain the idea of the “reunification of two brotherly peoples”.

Several events from the past few days show that “we are in a very worrying situation” when it comes to North Korea, said Danilo delle Fave, an associate researcher at the International Team for the Study of Security in Verona.

“This doesn’t mean that Seoul is planning to acquire nuclear weapons in the near future,” Bluth said.

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