Last Saturday, 15th April was the 105th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il-sung, founder leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (commonly referred to as North Korea), and observed as the Day of the Sun, the most important national holiday in that country. The North Koreans spend a lot of time and effort in preparing to celebrate this day, among the highlights of which, is the military parade in the capital of Pyongyang.
Western observers pay very keen attention to this international display of North Korea’s arsenal ever since they announced in 2013, their intentions to develop a war plan capable of nuclear strikes on major American cities. At the time, the general feeling of this bold intention was not to take it too seriously since many felt that North Korea didn’t possess the wherewithal to develop any serious threat in the near future.
Saturday’s parade suggested a different story, with over sixty missiles being paraded through the streets of the capital. Four missile systems were shown for the first time, revealing two which were completely new. The intercontinental missiles were transported in brand new canisters which allow for easy movement, thus permitting them to be hidden and launched quickly. The canisters are designed to carry larger intercontinental ballistic missiles than any previously known, which had been previously developed with the intention of reaching the eastern seaboard of the USA.
The canisters were transported on huge trucks, the chassis of which had been imported from China back in 2011 for civilian purposes, which suggests a timeline that the programme was (and possibly is) further ahead than western observers were willing to acknowledge. Among the disturbing amount of weaponry displayed were the KN-11 and the KN-15 missiles, the former capable of being launched from a submarine which has the capability of bypassing the Thaad, the American missile defense system, since it can be fired in any direction.
On Monday, the BBC’s John Sudworth was granted a face to face interview in Pyongyang with the country’s vice-foreign minister during which he stated, “According to our own schedule we‘ll be conducting more tests on a weekly, monthly and yearly basis.” On Sunday, North Korea launched another missile test which turned out to be unsuccessful.
Kim Jong-un, the grandson of Kim Il-sung and the current leader seems to have been shaken a bit by President Trump’s order of an air strike in Syria, and appears to be willing to adopt (or appear to) a strategy of attack, rather than a response to one. “If the USA encroaches upon our sovereignty then it will provoke our immediate counter reaction and if it is planning an attack against us, we will react with a nuclear pre-emptive strike by our own style and method,” the vice-foreign minister added. Bold words indeed -“nuclear pre-emptive strike”- from a very senior government official.
The installation of a new American missile defence system in South Korea, and the deployment of a large naval American presence to the South China Sea has clearly indicated to Kim Jong-un that Obama’s ‘strategic patience’ toward North Korea is over, and President Trump is not prepared to sit back and continue to allow his single minded pursuit to develop intercontinental ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads. Having seen the fall of the Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi governments for the lack of a sufficient supply of weapons of mass destruction to deter an attack, Kim Jong-un seems hell bent on accomplishing that feat, and wants to be considered a serious player in the nuclear weapons game along the lines of India and the United Kingdom.
How does the situation develop herein on? International diplomacy in the past, in general, tended to be conducted along the lines of a game of chess with rules and strategy, but in this case, it has become a game of Texas hold’em poker, with hidden cards, bluffing and the calling of the other player’s bluffs.
Will it resort to the current pattern in place, with another round of United Nations’ sanctions on North Korea, around which it has formulated its own methods of defeating?
Will the USA shoot down one of the North Korean missile tests from the South China Sea and put its allies, South Korea and Japan at the risk of a response from Kim Jong-un?
Will China, North Korea’s biggest trading partner step in and try to temper the situation as the USA has suggested? The last option China needs is a unified Korea with American troops on its border, and a flood of refugees into China.
Or is this all just another display of North Korean brinkmanship and those containers on display at the parade are empty shells? Are they hoping to ‘agree’ to another round of economic and diplomatic concessions to end ‘the crisis’? And to later renege on the disarmament agreements as they have in the past?
As another Day of the Sun looms, the Democratic Republic of Korea, one of the poorest countries on the planet inches closer to the exclusive club of full-fledged nuclear power nations.