Kim Jong Un, who had declared the country’s nuclear program complete in early 2018, had bet that brandishing an ICBM with the ability to strike the U.S. mainland would be enough to win concessions at the negotiating table.
At a military parade marking the 75th anniversary of the ruling Workers’ Party on Saturday, Pyongyang revealed a new intercontinental ballistic missile
The new ICBM is a successor to the Hwasong-15—the missile that demonstrated the North’s potential to hit the U.S. mainland—and boasts a similar range. But it is significantly longer and thicker, and could possibly carry more than triple the payload, or number of warheads, according to researchers at 38 North, a North Korea-focused website, based on an initial assessment.
By unveiling a more menacing weapon, Mr. Kim is hoping the threat—and any test launches—drives up the price for the U.S. of relinquishing them.
It remains unproven whether the new ICBM is ready for testing, let alone a strike. But it deepens the view in Washington, Seoul and elsewhere that Mr. Kim remains unlikely to give up his nuclear arsenal, said Wi Sung-lac, a former nuclear envoy for South Korea.
“There already is a growing voice that it’s impossible to persuade North Korea to give up its nukes, so we should try to contain them,” Mr. Wi said. “North Korea is hoping this one day becomes official American policy.”
New Long-Range Missile
North Korea displayed a new intercontinental ballistic missile, featured atop an 11-axles transporter.
Sources: Tal Inbar, former head of Israel’s space research center at the Fisher Institute; KCNA/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images (photo)
But the Kim regime, dealing with a faltering economy, flood damage and the coronavirus pandemic, stands at a crossroads weeks before the U.S. presidential election. Talks remain gridlocked with Washington, and the next president will determine its next steps. At Saturday’s ceremony, the North opted to display the military hardware that could feature in future provocations.
Despite Mr. Kim’s claim of completion, North Korea still has many areas for improvement for its nuclear arsenal, weapons experts say.
Still unknown is whether the North’s nuclear warhead could survive re-entering the atmosphere, where it would need to withstand enormous pressure and heat, those experts say. The Kim regime also has yet to show it can affix multiple warheads to an ICBM, which would bring the threat of simultaneous strikes. Unveiling missiles that can be powered with solid fuel, rather than liquid fuel, would demonstrate technology that enables Pyongyang to launch an ICBM more quickly.
The biggest holdup in demonstrating those abilities has been the Kim regime’s pause on long-range testing, security experts say. “Every weapon has to be tested under realistic conditions multiple times to be proven,” said retired South Korean Gen. Chun In-bom.