North Korea prepares a show of military muscle

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The parade to commemorate the anniversary of the Workers’ Party can be a showcase to show this Saturday the latest advances of Kim Jong-un’s missile program

The first in two years and perhaps the oldest of the Kim Jong-un era. With all the fanfare possible, and after months of preparations, North Korea will hold a grand military parade in Pyongyang this Saturday, in which it is expected to unveil its main advances in its missile technology, including -perhaps- the “new strategic weapon ”that its leader promised in January.

The parade will culminate the celebrations to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the founding of its Workers’ Party, one of the most important dates on the North Korean calendar and which this year comes three weeks before the US presidential elections. The display of military might which is expected to fulfill a double function: to send a message to the United States, with which the denuclearization negotiations have been stalled for a year and a half, and to galvanize the North Korean population after a year in which the coronavirus pandemic, the International sanctions and a particularly harsh typhoon season have dealt a severe blow to the economy.

According to the website 38 North, specialized in North Korea, the platform is already completed so that the public and the authorities can see the parade; For weeks satellite images have made it possible to distinguish soldiers rehearsing the march in Mirim camp, and bridges in central Pyongyang have been reinforced to support the passage of heavy equipment.

Among the weapons that North Korea could display at the parade in Pyongyang’s Kim Il-sung Square could be a submarine launch rocket – the Pukguksong-3, which it already tested in October 2019 from a floating platform – or a new missile. intercontinental, the largest ever exhibited and perhaps powered by solid fuel, easier to store and have ready for immediate use. So far, the longest-range missile that this country has tested is the intercontinental Hwasong-15, which it launched in 2017 during the most tense period in recent times in North Korea-US relations.

It could also flaunt new mobile missile launchers (TEL), a key piece of equipment to bolster its ballistics program: until now, only four to six of these vehicles were calculated, but more would increase the chances of its missiles to survive. to a preemptive attack and – if used – to dodge enemy interception systems.

“North Korea appears to be preparing infrastructure to parade larger and heavier systems, and to display many more shuttles than in years past, indicating not only a qualitative, but also a quantitative increase in threat,” Bruce wrote. Perry and Markus Garlauskas, former US intelligence officials, for the Atlantic Council think tank.

An assessment also shared by the South Korean Unification Minister, Lee In-young, who this week pointed out the “possibility that North Korea will unveil new strategic weapons, such as new ICBMs, to draw attention at times when their economic achievements have left something to be desired ”. According to Lee, presenting the new weapons during the parade would be a low-intensity “show of force”, less aggressive than a missile test, ahead of the US elections and in a message to its winner.

Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump have met three times since June 2018 to discuss the denuclearization of North Korea, but neither meeting has produced concrete results. Although the two leaders maintain a cordial personal relationship, negotiations have been at a standstill since the last of those talks, on the inter-Korean border in June last year, and the third leader of the Kim dynasty’s impatience is growing. The United States estimates that its opponent has an arsenal of between 20 and 60 nuclear bombs and can produce six annually.

In Pyongyang’s eyes, Trump “is more likely to accept the lifting of sanctions or North Korea as a de facto nuclear power,” says Andrei Lankov, of Kookmin University in Seoul, in a videoconference organized by the Carnegie think tank. In contrast, the prospects that the Democratic candidate, Joe Biden, could do something like that if he becomes president are nil.

Beyond the weapons that can be exhibited, other unknowns surround the event. It is unknown whether preventive measures will be taken against covid, a disease that North Korea officially declares to have had no case of.

It is also not known whether Kim will deliver a speech, as he did at the party’s 70th anniversary commemoration. The North Korean leader opened this year by vowing to boost his weapons program and develop the impoverished economy to deal with international sanctions. A daunting task: According to the South Korean central bank, the North’s GDP contracted by 3.5 and 4.1%, respectively, in 2017 and 2018, and only grew by 0.4% last year.

“Kim Jong-un no longer believes that a higher international profile will generate greater opportunities in the short term; sees the need for the development of the economy to make it more resistant to sanctions, and the covid pandemic has only accelerated this trend, ”explained the deputy director of 38 North, Jenny Town, recently at a seminar.

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