North Korea unveils its largest ICBM to date, as Kim promises to accelerate the development of the North’s nuclear arsenal

Seoul, South Korea North Korean leader Kim Jong Un promised to bolster his nuclear forces at “maximum speed” and threatened to use them if provoked in a speech he delivered during a military parade that included powerful weapons systems aimed at the United States and its allies, state media reported Tuesday.

His remarks suggest he will continue provocative weapons tests in a press campaign to snatch concessions from the United States and other rivals. The parade on Monday night marked the 90th anniversary of North Korea’s army – the backbone of the Kim family’s authoritarian rule – and came as the country faces an economy plagued by pandemic-related difficulties, punishment of US-led sanctions and its own mismanagement.

State media photos showed Kim, dressed in a white military ceremonial coat, smiling and waving from a balcony along with his wife Ri Sol Ju and other top deputies.

Military parade at night to mark the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Korean People's Revolutionary Army in Pyongyang
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un watches a military parade at night to mark the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Korean People’s Revolutionary Army in Pyongyang, North Korea, in this undated photo released by North Korea’s Central Korean News Agency (KCNA) on April 26. 2022

KCNA via Reuters

“(We) will continue to take steps to further develop our state’s nuclear forces at the fastest possible speed,” Kim told his troops, and the crowd gathered for the parade in Pyongyang Square, according to the official Korean Central News Agency.

He reiterated an earlier message that the Nordic countries could use their nuclear weapons in advance when threatened by attacks, and urged his nuclear forces to be fully prepared to go “on the move at any time.”

“The basic mission of our nuclear forces is to deter a war, but our nuclear weapons can never be limited to the sole mission of deterring war, even at a time when a situation we do not want at all is being created on this land,” Kim Kim said. “If any forces attempt to violate the fundamental interests of our state, our nuclear forces will have to resolutely carry out its unexpected second mission,” which would leave any invading force “dead,” he said.

The parade featured goose-stepping troops shouting “hurray!” and a range of modern weapons, including missiles potentially capable of reaching the American homeland, as well as shorter-range missiles that can be fired from land vehicles or submarines and threaten South Korea and Japan.

One of the weapons on display at the brightly lit Kim Il Sung Square, named after Kim’s late grandfather and state founder, was North Korea’s largest, newly built intercontinental ballistic missile, the Hwasong-17.

Military parade at night to mark the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Korean People's Revolutionary Army in Pyongyang
Hwasong-17 intercontinental ballistic missiles in a night military parade to mark the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Korean People’s Revolutionary Army in Pyongyang, North Korea, in this undated image released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on April 26, 2022.

KCNA via Reuters

North Korea claimed to have test-fired that missile last month in its first full-range ICBM launch in more than four years. South Korea denied that says Pyongyang launched a smaller, existing Hwasong-15 ICBM after a failed launch of Hwasong-17. Despite external doubts, the missile fired on March 24 flew farther and higher than any other missile fired by North Korea, showing a potential ability to reach deep into the American mainland.

The KCNA said spectators at the parade raised loud cheers as they watched Hwasong-17, which it said showed “the absolute power of the Juche (self-help), Korea and our republic’s strategic position towards the world.”

North Korea often celebrates important state anniversaries with great fanfare to increase internal unity. Tuesday’s KCNA broadcast praised Kim for carrying out “the historic great cause of completing nuclear forces by making a long journey of patriotic devotion with a death-defying will to ensure that the people would forever enjoy happiness free from the horrors of war after generation.”

Kim has also revived nuclear brinkmanship with the aim of forcing the United States to accept North Korea as a nuclear power and remove crippling economic sanctions. Analysts say North Korea is taking advantage of a favorable environment to speed up its weapons program, as the UN Security Council remains divided over Russia’s war in Ukraine.

People are watching a television screen showing a news broadcast of a military parade held in Pyongyang to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Korean People’s Revolutionary Army, at a railway station in Seoul on April 26, 2022.

JUNG YEON-JE / AFP via Getty Images

Nuclear negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang have been halted since 2019 due to disagreement over the potential easing of US-led sanctions in return for North Korean disarmament steps. Kim has stuck to his goals of simultaneously developing nuclear weapons and the country’s dismal economy in the face of international pressure and has shown no willingness to fully surrender a nuclear arsenal he sees as his greatest guarantee of survival.

Kim’s comments on the possible use of nuclear weapons and his decision to attend the parade in a military coat instead of his usual suit and tie signal a tough approach to South Korea’s future Conservative government, which could take a tougher line on Pyongyang than the current Liberal President Moon Jae-in, according to analyst Cheong Seong-Chang at the Southern Sejong Institute.

Newly elected President Yoon Suk Yeol, who takes office on May 10, has criticized Moon’s inter-Korean engagement policy for allegedly ignoring a growing North Korean threat. He has promised to strengthen South Korea’s defenses in connection with its alliance with the United States, which he says will include an improvement in preventive attack capabilities.

“North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missiles have become a serious and realistic threat to our country, and it is an urgent task to achieve an ability to deter (the North’s threat),” Yoon’s office said in a statement.

North Korea has completed 13 rounds of weapons testing this year, including its alleged launch of Hwasong-17. There are also signs that North Korea is rebuilding tunnels at a nuclear test site that was last active in 2017, possibly in preparation for the explosion of a nuclear device.

In 2017, North Korea claimed to have acquired an ability to launch nuclear attacks on the American mainland after a violent run of nuclear and missile tests. The Nordic countries had stopped such high-profile tests before entering the now dormant diplomacy with the United States.

The Nordic region has spent much of the last three years focusing on expanding its short-range arsenal aimed at South Korea when nuclear negotiations with the United States stalled.

Kim’s aggressive military advance may also be motivated by domestic politics, as he otherwise has no significant results to show to his people as he marks a decade in power.

He failed to win much-needed sanctions from his diplomacy with then-President Donald Trump, and the COVID-19 pandemic triggered further shocks to the country’s ruined economy and forced him to acknowledge last year that North Korea was facing its “worst situation ever.” . “

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