Since threatening the US with a "sensational event" in June 2020, North Korean leaders have been rather silent. With flood, cyclone and food shortage amid an ongoing pandemic, the secretive country hasn't attracted international attention. But on Thursday night (January 14) during a military parade in Pyongyang, the country unveiled a new missile that it called "world's most powerful weapon", once again attracted international attention.
While it may not be the most powerful weapon, as claimed, it does send a signal to incoming US President Joe Biden, who has been a vocal critic of North Korea's Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un, calling the Supreme Leader a "thug". Unlike Donald Trump, Biden isn't expected to be involved in dialogue with his North Korean counterpart.
During the 8th Congress of the ruling Workers' Party, Kim called the US the "principal enemy". Hence, Pyongyang was expected to show off its military might. This time, it had a new submarine-launched ballistic missile to commemorate the party congress. The missile was unveiled during a parade at the Kim Il Sung Square on Thursday. State-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) expectedly said, "The world's most powerful weapon, submarine-launch ballistic missile (SLBM), entered the square one after another, powerfully demonstrating the might of the revolutionary armed forces."
In October 2020, the country showed off a giant inter-continental ballistic missile during the Workers' Party's 75th-anniversary parade. Military analysts believed it was the world's largest mobile ICBM. Now, with the new SLBM, marked as Pukguksong-5, North Korea is continuing its weapon modernization to keep up with the US. It is an upgrade from Pukguksong-3 and 4 with an estimated range of over 2,000 kilometers.
Besides that, a smaller short-range solid-fuel missile was also present during the parade. Joseph Dempsey, a defense and military analyst from the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said that the short-range missile is similar to the KN-24 that was tested in 2019. It bears a resemblance to the MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System that the US has.
"Other proud-worthy Juche-type weapons rolled past the square one after another, demonstrating to the world how our defense industry built up tremendous might since it started its first step with the production of sub-machine gun after the liberation of the country while covering the untrodden path of army-building," the KCNA wrote.
Ankit Panda, an expert in North Korea's nuclear program, told CNN that it showed the country's focus on sustaining nuclear forces and modernizing weaponry did not shift. "The SLBM displayed was evidence of North Korea's growing sophistication with large solid propellant-based ballistic missiles," added Panda, who is a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Show of Strength
Instead of diplomacy, North Korea believes in showing off new weaponry to warn its enemies including South Korea, Japan and the US. Despite international sanctions and warnings, North Korea has continued to develop a nuclear arsenal, angering the US and its allies. During the party congress, Kim said the US would never change its policies for North Korea. Hence, nuclear weapons should continue to develop.
"No matter who is in power in the US, the true nature and the true spirit of the anti-North Korea policy will never change. The development of nuclear weapons will be pushed forward without interruption," Kim said on Saturday (January 9), addressing the party leaders.
As for the people of North Korea, the government needs something to divert their attention amid a crisis. Kim has publicly admitted economic difficulties due to sanctions but with the show of military strength, he has been able to win over North Korean elites.
"These parades aren't just for the outside world, of course. Even as Kim openly acknowledges economic difficulties, he can shore up his leadership by showing the people of Pyongyang — North Korea's elite — that he has been able to deliver on military modernization," Panda said.