In his 2020 New Year’s message, a defiant Mr. Kim said his country no longer felt bound by its self-declared nuclear and ICBM test moratorium and vowed to show the world a “new strategic weapon.” But until the military parade on Saturday, no display of such a weapon materialized, as North Korea seemed preoccupied with fighting Covid-19 and extensive flood damage.
During his speech, Mr. Kim reiterated his claim that the country had no cases of Covid-19, and a large, maskless crowd gathered for the parade. Outside experts are skeptical about the claim, given the country’s poor public health system.
Harry J. Kazianis, senior director of Korean studies at the Washington-based Center for the National Interest, said that the new ICBM seems to be a derivative of the Hwasong-15. But it is “much bigger and clearly more powerful than anything” in the North Korean arsenal, indicating that it could carry a larger and deadlier nuclear payload, potentially even multiple warheads, to potential targets like American cities, he said.
“Despite North Korea being hammered this year by three typhoons, constant food insecurity issues, international sanctions and now threats from Covid-19, the Kim regime has shown the world once again its long-range missile program will continue to advance with each passing day,” Mr. Kazianis wrote in an email.
The parade on Saturday also reminded the outside world of how mobile ballistic missiles have become a key component of North Korea’s military strategy. Since becoming North Korean leader nearly a decade ago, Mr. Kim has focused on developing and testing such weapons, which can be easily hidden in the country’s mountainous terrain and numerous underground tunnels.
In recent years, his military has also tested ballistic missiles using solid fuel, which have the advantage of being able to stay in a ready-to-strike state and are considered harder to detect and destroy.
Those solid-fuel missiles were on display on the military parade on Saturday.