Don’t Let Pyongyang Flaunt N-Capabilities That Will Raise Regional Tensions

North Korea must be aiming to flaunt the buildup of its nuclear and missile capabilities to counter Japan, the United States and South Korea, which are enhancing their security cooperation, but an act like this that unilaterally increases tensions cannot be overlooked.

North Korea recently held a military parade. Kim Jong Un, general secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea, also attended the event.

What caught the eye was a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that is believed to be a solid-fuel type. Unlike existing liquid-fuel weapons, it does not require time for fuel injection, making it difficult to be detected if it is being prepared for launch.

The parade also featured a number of mobile launchpads for ICBMs, indicating that the country is ready for mass production. Compared to fixed launchpads, it is difficult for the location of mobile pads to be identified, making a surprise attack easier.

With such weapons and equipment, North Korea is likely attempting to steadily boost its ability to strike the U.S. mainland with ICBMs.

The parade also featured tactical nuclear operation units. The units are tasked with firing super-large rockets with a range that encompasses all of South Korea, as well as ballistic missiles with irregular trajectories that can reach Japan. If loaded with nuclear warheads, they could pose the threat of nuclear attack on Japan and South Korea.

Last year, North Korea mapped out a doctrine on the pre-emptive use of nuclear weapons that allows it to use them if it faces an imminent attack by another country. The latest parade is likely aimed at demonstrating that its nuclear threat is not just words, but also has substance.

In North Korea, people are said to be starving to death due to a declining grain harvest and other factors. Kim can pour money into the nuclear development program while neglecting the impoverishment of the people because of loopholes in the international community’s framework to impose sanctions against the country.

Last year, North Korea stole a record amount of crypto assets, or virtual currency, via cyber-attacks, reportedly exceeding ¥100 billion. Eliminating such sources of funding will lead to preventing North Korea from developing nuclear weapons.

At a time when close cooperation among Japan, the United States and South Korea is being sought, it is concerning that there is growing debate over the necessity of possessing nuclear weapons in South Korea. Behind this is the perception that it would be unrealistic to make Pyongyang abandon its nuclear program through negotiations, and fears about the deployment of North Korean nuclear missiles targeting South Korea.

With growing calls for the redeployment of tactical nuclear weapons with U.S. forces in South Korea and for arming South Korea with its own nuclear arms, 70% of respondents agreed with the idea of possessing nuclear weapons, according to public opinion polls.

However, if South Korea were to possess nuclear weapons, it would run counter to the goal of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula and undermine the global framework of nuclear nonproliferation. A realistic measure is to enhance the credibility of the U.S. nuclear umbrella, such as by frequently conducting joint U.S.-South Korean military drills using U.S. bombers that can carry nuclear weapons.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 12, 2023)