North Korea showcased almost a dozen advanced intercontinental ballistic missiles at a nighttime military parade on Wednesday, in the biggest display yet of what its state-run media described as Pyongyang’s “nuclear attack capability.”
The missiles were paraded through Pyongyang’s Kim Il Sung square as leader Kim Jong Un, accompanied by his wife, and a young girl believed to be his daughter looked on.
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The widely anticipated event, which marked the founding anniversary of the North Korean army, comes less than two months after Kim called for an “exponential increase” in his country’s nuclear arsenal in response to what he claims are threats from South Korea and the United States.
Last year saw North Korea test more missiles than at any time in its history, including an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that could in theory strike the US mainland.
That missile, the Hwasong-17, is what analysts said was showcased on Wednesday night.
“It looks like 10-12 Hwasong-17 ICBMs made an appearance. This is cumulatively more ICBM launchers than we’ve ever seen before at a North Korean parade,” Ankit Panda, a nuclear policy expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said on social media.
Panda said if each missile were equipped with multiple nuclear warheads, they could represent enough volume to overwhelm US ballistic missile defenses.
The unprecedented display appears to show Kim is following through on his pledge to equip the country with a nuclear arsenal that can threaten the US.
Besides the Hwasong-17, analysts said North Korea showed off what could be a mockup of a new solid-fueled ICBM, which, if it were to become operational, would give Pyongyang a more mobile and harder to detect nuclear missile.
Solid-fueled rockets are more stable than the liquid-fueled ones like the Hwasong-17. That means a solid-fueled ICBM could be moved more easily and launched more quickly than a liquid-fueled one.
North Korea said in December it had successfully tested a solid-fueled rocket motor.
But the presence of the possibly solid-fueled missiles at the parade does not mean they are workable. North Korea is not believed to have flight tested a solid-fueled missile, and experts say it faces many technical hurdles before being able to deploy one.
Besides the ICBMs, North Korean state media said the parade featured tactical missiles and long-range cruise missiles.
The Kim regime uses its military parades to shore up domestic support for its military programs while sending a signal to the United States, South Korea and others. But North Korea’s missile buildup comes in violation of United Nations sanctions and soaks up resources that could be used elsewhere.
“Kim Jong Un let North Korea’s expanding tactical and long-range missile forces speak for themselves,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul. “The regime has staked its legitimacy on nuclear weapons at the expense of diplomacy and the economy.”
Easley and other analysts say the next step in North Korea’s nuclear weapons development could be an underground test of an actual weapon and could come at any time.
Wednesday night’s parade followed a lavish banquet a night earlier at which Kim put a girl believed to be his daughter Ju Ae in the spotlight, the latest sign the girl is possibly being groomed as his eventual successor.
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Pictures published by state media showed the girl walking next to Kim and her mother as they entered the venue for the banquet while military officers applauded.
At the banquet, the girl was seated in the center of the lead table between Kim and her mother.
In a country where the Kim family and the military are all powerful, the presence of the girl at such an important event sends clear signals, said Easley, the Ewha University professor.
“By ostentatiously including his wife and daughter, Kim wants observers at home and abroad to see his family dynasty and the North Korean military as irrevocably linked,” he said.