Kim Jong Un has rolled out a lot of new missiles in recent months, including at least one more this week. The next step is for him to fire them into the air to get President-elect Joe Biden’s attention.
The North Korean leader paraded a new submarine-launched ballistic missile through central Pyongyang Thursday as part of a military pageant to mark the completion of more than a week of ruling party meetings. The Pukguksong-5 — the largest in an growing line of solid-fueled nuclear missiles — moves Kim closer to Opening a maritime front in his strategic struggle with the U.S.
The new missile comes only four months after Kim unveiled a smaller version of the same rocket at a similar military parade in October. That event also featured a massive new intercontinental ballistic missile, which is believed to be the world’s largest road-mobile weapon of its sort.
The problem for Kim is that many of these new systems haven’t been proven, diminishing their value as a deterrent against an American attack. If Kim wants to achieve the ambitious nuclear program he outlined at Workers’ Party gatherings this month, he’ll need to start launching soon.
“I am certain we will see tests in the near future,” said Melissa Hanham, a non-proliferation expert and an affiliate with the Stanford Center for International Security and Cooperation.
North Korea hasn’t fired off an ICBM since November 2017, when Kim moved to open communications with U.S. President Donald Trump. Kim has already declared an end to the testing freeze he put in place to facilitate talks with Trump and earlier this week reaffirmed that the U.S. was his “biggest main enemy.”
The next launches may illustrate how rapidly North Korea has developed its nuclear delivery systems over the past few years, despite tough international sanctions and Trump’s three face-to-face meetings with Kim. The provocations may also help pressure the Biden administration into making concessions.
North Korea tested President Barack Obama with the launch of a long-range rocket and a nuclear device within months after he took power in 2009. He welcomed Trump with a series of tests culminating with the launch of an ICBM that experts said could deliver a nuclear warhead to the entire U.S.
“The Biden administration need not accept this as a done deal,” said Ankit Panda, a Stanton Senior Fellow in the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “An early signal from the U.S. could stay Kim’s hand, but Biden would have to offer a clearly valuable inducement, like the prospect of sanctions relief.”
The Biden administration has indicated it may be ready to ease sanctions in exchange for steps by Kim to freeze, cap and wind down his atomic arsenal. This could help Kim fix an economy that has only gotten smaller since he took power about a decade ago.