Nuclear-armed North Korea unveiled a new submarine-launched ballistic missile at a military parade in Pyongyang, state media reported yesterday, in a show of strength days before the inauguration of US president-elect Joe Biden.
The parade came after the five-yearly congress of the ruling Workers’ Party, at which the country’s leader, Kim Jong-un, decried the US as North Korea’s “foremost principal enemy.”
“The world’s most powerful weapon, submarine-launch ballistic missile, entered the square one after another, powerfully demonstrating the might of the revolutionary armed forces,” the North’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said.
Photo: AFP / KCNA VIA KNS
Pictures showed at least 12 of the missiles with black-and-white cones being driven past flag-waving crowds.
Ankit Panda, a fellow at the Carnegie Endowment on International Peace, said that it was a previously unseen weapon.
“New year, new Pukguksong,” he wrote on Twitter, using the name for the North’s submarine-launched ballistic missiles.
Kim oversaw the display, which included rockets with a “powerful striking capability for thoroughly annihilating enemies in a pre-emptive way outside the territory,” KCNA said, implying a range extending beyond the Korean Peninsula.
Images showed the parade ending with what appeared to be a new solid-fuel short-range ballistic missile — which are more mobile and more quickly deployed than liquid-fueled versions.
“They’d like us to notice that they’re getting more proficient with larger solid rocket boosters,” Panda tweeted.
Analysts say that the North is using the congress to send Washington’s incoming administration a message of strength in an attempt to extract concessions.
Kim and US President Donald Trump had a tumultuous relationship, engaging in mutual insults and threats of war before an extraordinary diplomatic bromance featuring headline-grabbing summits and declarations of love by the outgoing US president.
However, little substantive progress was made, with the process deadlocked after a February 2019 summit in Hanoi broke down over sanctions relief and what Pyongyang would be willing to give up in return.
The North is under multiple sets of international sanctions over its banned nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.
It is also under a self-imposed COVID-19 blockade, having closed its borders in January last year to protect against the virus that first emerged in neighboring China, adding to the pressure on its moribund economy.
The change of leadership in Washington presents a challenge for Pyongyang. Biden is associated with the “strategic patience” approach of the administration of former US president Barack Obama and characterized Kim as a “thug” in last year’s presidential debates.
The US is expected to return to more orthodox diplomatic approaches under Biden, such as insisting on extensive progress at working-level talks before any leaders’ summit can be considered.
Pyongyang has poured vast resources into its weapons programs, which have made rapid progress under Kim and which the North says it needs to defend itself against a possible US invasion.
“The majestic elite units and invincible iron-clad ranks of the republic which will proudly pass Kim Il-sung Square represent our absolute power,” KCNA quoted North Korean Minister of People’s Armed Forces Kim Jong-gwan as saying in a speech ahead of the parade.
The display also included infantry troops, artillery, tanks and a flyover with aircraft forming the number “8” to commemorate the congress, it said.
However, the North is carefully calibrating its messaging, and neither the KCNA description nor the images included any intercontinental ballistic missiles, suggesting that the parade was on a smaller scale than the North’s previous such display in October.
At that time, it showed off a huge new intercontinental missile on an 11-axle vehicle that analysts said was the largest road-mobile, liquid-fueled missile in the world.
At the congress, Kim Jong-un said that the North had completed plans for a nuclear-powered submarine — something that would change the strategic balance if it was built and went into service.
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