Kim Jong Un rolled out a new ballistic missile designed to carry nuclear warheads to the U.S., in a massive military parade that appeared calibrated to show strength at home and abroad without provoking President Donald Trump.
The new intercontinental ballistic missile, which weapons experts said appeared to be the largest road-mobile rocket of its type, provided the grand finale to an extended procession of goose-stepping troops and military hardware. Footage of the rare midnight parade to mark the 75th anniversary of the ruling Workers’ Party was aired hours after the event Saturday, confirming weeks of speculation that Kim would use the show to send a campaign-season message to the U.S.
“The new ICBM is almost certainly Kim Jong Un’s ‘new strategic weapon’ promised to the world back in December 2019,” said Ankit Panda, author of “Kim Jong Un and the Bomb: Survival and Deterrence in North Korea” and a Stanton senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “North Korea worked on this system while diplomacy with the United States was ongoing.”
The spectacular affair — complete with fighter jet fly-overs and fireworks — included both flourishes of authoritarian control and emotion from Kim, who wore a gray business suit and glasses as he read a written speech from a high balcony overlooking Kim Il Sung Square. Kim appeared to cry while expressing regret for the country’s struggles under sanctions and natural disasters.
In his remarks, Kim vowed only to unleash his arsenal if threatened. He avoided naming the U.S. and signaled a willingness to resume exchanges with rival South Korea after the pandemic subsided.
“We will continue to strengthen our war deterrence capability, so as to deter all kinds of risky attempts and threats — including nuclear threats that are being constantly aggravated by hostile forces,” Kim said. “But if any forces try to use their military power against us, I will preemptively mobilize our most powerful offensive force and punish them.”
The U.S. criticized North Korea soon after the release of the parade footage. Washington said it was “disappointed” to see Pyongyang continuing its weapons development, according to the South’s Yonhap news agency on Saturday, citing an anonymous senior U.S. official. John Supple, a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Defense, said that Washington was analyzing the event along with its Asian allies, the agency added.
Seoul held its emergency National Security Council meeting on Sunday to discuss the North’s military parade, according to South Korea’s presidential Blue House.
The event was the first time since Kim opened unprecedented talks with Trump in 2018 that he had paraded new nuclear hardware through Pyongyang. Kim has expressed increasing frustration with the U.S. since Trump walked out of their second formal summit in February 2019 without a deal to reduce North Korea’s nuclear arsenal or relieve the sanctions squeezing the country’s economy.
While initial state media reports on the parade noted how North Korea’s missiles have struck “terror and horror” in the country’s enemies, they made no mention of the new ICBM. Dispatches in the Korean Central News Agency noted how onlookers received the strategic weapons with “excitement and enthusiasm.”
Meanwhile, North Korea’s biggest newspaper Rodong Sinmun — which usually has six pages in total — added eight extra pages on Saturday to highlight the rare nighttime military event. A total of 11 pages and more than 100 pictures were devoted to the parade.
“Kim’s speech was tame and seemed to almost deliberately avoid provoking Trump before the election, while achieving domestic aims to strengthen unity,” said Duyeon Kim, an adjunct senior fellow with the Center for a New American Security in Seoul. “He also said ‘war deterrent’ and not ‘nuclear deterrent,’ while almost going through lengths to frame his nuclear weapons as self-defense tools.”
Still, the parade showed how far Kim’s weapons program has advanced over the past two years, despite Trump’s claim that North Korea was “no longer a nuclear threat.” The spectacle underscored how the country will remain one of the U.S.’s biggest strategic challenges regardless of whether Trump or his Democratic opponent Joe Biden win on Nov. 3.
The ICBM, which appeared to be an extended version of the Hwasong-15 missile that North Korea tested in November 2017, looked designed to carry a heavy payload, such as multiple warheads that could evade defensive systems. Weapons experts also spotted a missile that they called a Pukguksong-4A, a submarine weapon believed to be the most advanced solid-fuel missile Kim’s regime has developed.
The event showed off Kim’s growing arsenal of short-range ballistic missiles and the mobile transport launchers that can be rolled out for quick strikes. The regime has test-launched more than 30 of them since 2019. These include the nuclear-capable, hypersonic KN-23 that can strike all of South Korea — including U.S. forces stationed south of Seoul — within two minutes.
The footage aired on state media did point to some possible limits facing Kim’s weapons-building efforts. He didn’t prove that he could significantly increase his inventory of the specialized trucks needed to transport and hide his largest missiles. And he didn’t produce a solid-fuel ICBM that many non-proliferation experts had predicted.
North Korea is heading toward its biggest economic contraction since 1997, according to Fitch Solutions, as the coronavirus led to border closures and flooding destroyed large swathes of crops. Kim issued a rare warning for North Korea’s economy in August, telling party leaders that his country “faced unexpected and inevitable challenges in various aspects,” adding his development goals had been “seriously delayed.”
Kim appeared to get emotional while discussing the country’s struggles of the past year, citing typhoons, flooding and the U.S.-led international sanctions regime constraining the economy.
“How many people have endured and struggled with the difficult environment this year?” Kim said, appearing to cry. “The patriotic devotion of our People’s Army soldiers on the quarantine front and in natural disaster recovery front cannot be treated without tears of gratitude. I’m so sorry and it hurts to not be with them on this night of glory.” – Bloomberg