Will nuclear testing resume in North Korea? In any case, this is what American and South Korean officials and analysts fear. At issue: a speech by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, in which he announced his intention to “strengthen and develop” his country’s nuclear armament and reported on Tuesday to the official media during a giant military parade in Pyongyang.
“We will continue to take steps to strengthen and develop our nation’s nuclear capabilities at an accelerated pace,” said the North Korean dictator, whose remarks were reported by the North Korean news agency KCNA.
A resumption of the tests soon?
According to this source, the leader made a speech during a military parade which took place on Monday evening in Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the Korean People’s Revolutionary Army. The country is under severe international sanctions because of its nuclear and missile programs. Diplomatic negotiations aimed at convincing the leader to give it up have stalled since the failure in 2019 of a meeting between Kim Jong Un and then-US President Donald Trump.
U.S. and South Korean officials and analysts believe Pyongyang could soon resume nuclear weapons testing, halted since 2017. Satellite images showed signs of activity in a tunnel at the Punggye-ri site, which, according to North Korea, was demolished in 2018 before the first summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un. The North Korean leader oversaw a huge military parade on Monday in which missiles were paraded.
Not just deterrents
In his speech, he said that while his country’s nuclear weapons primarily serve a deterrent role, they “cannot be tied to a single mission.” “If any force tries to usurp the fundamental interests of our country, our nuclear force will have no choice but to fulfill its second mission unexpectedly,” he warned. KCNA said that during this parade, the most sophisticated weapons, in particular hypersonic ballistic missiles as well as the new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) Hwasong-17, were displayed.
“Spectators gave a loud shout of joy, very excited to see the giant Hwasong-17 intercontinental ballistic missile soaring into the sky on March 24,” KCNA reported. North Korea announced on March 25 that it had launched the Hwasong-17 for the first time the day before, publishing photos and videos in which Kim Jong-un appears supervising this test, in a very studied staging. Analysts, however, have noted inconsistencies in the account given by Pyongyang.
Missiles already tested in 2017
US and South Korean intelligence concluded that it was actually the Hwasong-15, a less advanced ICBM that had already been tested in 2017. The specialized website NK Newsbased in Seoul, published photos that he said were from the official newspaper Rodong Sinmun, showing a Hwasong-17 missile on parade. North Korea organizes military parades on the occasion of important holidays and anniversaries. Thousands of soldiers parade there at a goose step, followed by armored vehicles, tanks and missiles.
Specialists are closely studying these parades for clues to the latest weapons developed by Pyongyang. The Hwasong-17, dubbed the “monster missile” by military analysts, was first exhibited in a parade on October 10, 2020, mounted on a 22-wheeled vehicle.