North Korea unveiled a massive new ICBM in a parade on Saturday to mark the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Workers' Party of Korea, a signal to Washington that the regime is determined, despite years of efforts, to improve its long-range strike capabilities. once again diplomatic contacts with the United States.
The new missile that completed the early morning military parade is believed to be one of the largest liquid fuel and truck ICBMs in the world, possibly with the ability to transport multiple nuclear warheads as far as the continental United States.
"It's very worrying," said Bruce Klingner, former deputy chief of CIA Korea, now at the Heritage Foundation. He noted that North Korea has also shown the ability to manufacture more and larger launch vehicles for the new missiles
"And that's a worrying development as it could allow North Korea to use more ICBM, which would lead to a major first strike or a second nuclear retaliation," he said.
Although the new rocket is larger and more powerful than its predecessor, the Hwasong-15, it is still equipped with liquid fuel, which makes it more vulnerable than solid rocket when launched. However, the rollout serves a dual purpose.
“It is a warning to [US President Donald] Trump that he should resume negotiations with North Korea if he is re-elected. At the same time, it is a message to [Democratic candidate Joe] Biden that North Korea should be placed at the top of Biden's international political priorities, ”said Go Myong-hyun, senior fellow at the ASAN Institute for Political Studies in Seoul.
"Kim Jong Un is very heavily invested in personal relationship and diplomacy with Trump, so he would like to see Trump win. However, if you think Biden has a higher chance of winning then you need to hedge your bets which means that the new ICBM will be introduced, ”he said.
The parade also showed advances in North Korea's conventional capabilities, including new body armor and a new main battle tank.
Unlike in previous years, North Korea played it cautiously with this year's parade, keeping it under cover of darkness at midnight, when satellite imagery is less effective and when foreigners would likely be sleeping in the capital. Watchers who tuned into North Korea's state broadcaster on Saturday morning saw recycled documentaries about Kim Il Sung, Kim's grandfather and founder of the nation. This gave the regime the ability to display only edited images of the parade instead of a direct feed so that editors could highlight the human aspects of the parade, such as: B. Spectators and soldiers crying during Kim's speech.
The parade provided the regime with an opportunity to demonstrate new skills without crossing international red lines through tests. Kim avoided any reference to the United States in his speech, emphasizing that the growing arsenal was intended for defensive deterrence.
The U.S. government's initial response to the new missile systems was subdued, leaving the door open for future negotiations on denuclearization after Trump was face to face with Kim. “We are aware of reports related to the parade. Our analysis is ongoing and we are consulting with our allies in the region, "said John Supple, a Pentagon spokesman.
"It is disappointing to see the DPRK continuing to prioritize its banned nuclear and ballistic missile program," said a State Department spokesman. The spokesman added that the United States "continues to be guided by the vision set out in Singapore by President Trump and Chairman Kim, calling on the DPRK to engage in sustained and substantial negotiations to achieve full denuclearization."
The parade wasn't just directed against Washington, however. The massive show of force also aimed to remind the North Korean people of the power of the regime in Pyongyang. After a difficult year in which the pandemic left the country even more isolated than usual, sanctions are biting and multiple typhoons have hit rural regions and heightened fears Food insecurity.
"In these parades you see people, mass citizen organizations, military units and so on, and for them it's a sense of pride and nationalism. And for the rural people it's a big deal," said Daniel Pinkston, professor at Troy University in Seoul.
"I think the domestic signal is part of the regime’s measures to stay in power," he added.
Because of this, the parade celebrates the founding of the Workers' Party of Korea and three generations of Kim family achievements instead of the birth of the nation: Kim's influence in the country is inextricably linked to continued control of the party.
“It represents the nature of the regime, like other communist regimes. Therefore, the celebration of the founding of the party is more important than the creation of the nation, Go said.
Update, October 10, 2020: This article has been updated to include comments from a State Department spokesman.