Asia
Op-Ed

After the parade, North Korea’s steady progress matters more than its big new missile

Despite “biting” sanctions, Pyongyang has consistently shown a superior ability to adapt to the times and find ways to meet its strategic goals

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38 North

This article was originally published in Bulletin of the Atomic Sciences.

Everyone loves a good parade, North Korea included. And the military parade in Pyongyang on October 10 to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Workers’ Party of Korea did not disappoint. It included intricate troop formations, an array of military equipment, lights, cameras, drones, and even fireworks. And the middle-of-the-night setting created the perfect dramatic backdrop for Kim Jong Un to show off shiny new things as symbols of the country’s strength and perseverance despite the hardships of 2020.

And show off he did, making good on his earlier promise to reveal a “new strategic weapon.” The stars of the parade were a new larger intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and a new submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM). While the reveal may not have happened as “soon” as his original statement last December might have suggested, it certainly was done with flair and stole international headlines, as the world scrambled to assess what to make of these two new missiles.

While the new ICBM is touted as the “largest” road-mobile, liquid-fueled ICBM in the world, that feat is actually not much to brag about. As Vann Van Diepen and Michael Elleman point out in an article published on 38 North, most countries that have ICBMs work to create smaller, solid-fueled systems to make them more mobile, more concealable, and faster to deploy. A liquid-fueled missile of this size makes little strategic sense given the difficulties it would have traversing most of North Korea’s bumpy roads, and because it would likely need to be fueled only after it was erected at a launch site, making it vulnerable to preemptive attacks.

Read the full article in Bulletin of the Atomic Sciences.

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