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Is North Korea Getting Ready to Test an ICBM?

Kim Trump and Moon
President Donald J. Trump and Republic of South Korea President Moon Jae-in bid farewell to Chairman of the Workers’ Party Kim Jong Un Korea Sunday, June 30, 2019, at the demarcation line separating North and South Korea at the Korean Demilitarized Zone. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

Social media today is flagging South Korean media reports that North Korea has completed new multiple ICBM and transport erector launchers (TELs).  Could this be the new so-called “strategic weapon” that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un threatened to unveil months back?

While it seems like years ago, back during the end of last year, during the 5th Plenary Meeting of the 7th Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea, it was declared that:

“Saying that we should more actively push forward the project for developing strategic weapons, he confirmed that the world will witness a new strategic weapon to be possessed by the DPRK in the near future, declaring that we can not give up the security of our future just for the visible economic results and happiness and comfort in reality now that hostile acts and nuclear threat against us are increasing and nothing has changed between the days when we maintained the line of simultaneously pushing forward the economic construction and the building of nuclear force and now when we struggle to direct our efforts to the economic construction owing to the U.S. gangster-like acts.” 

At the moment, I am a little skeptical that this report could be that new weapon. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un loves to show off his new military assets in grand fashion, and just putting them out there for satellites to pick them up seems like the least media-savvy way to do it.

Still, there could be value in signaling to Seoul and Washington that Pyongyang is ready to escalate tensions in a big way at any moment–and Kim breaking his no ICBM testing pledge would surely be one way to go, however, tensions would reach a fever pitch and place North Korea back into U.S. domestic politics thanks to the 2020 presidential eleciton. Sadly, the trend lines over the last few weeks do to put the test of advanced missiles back in the realm of possibility.

Harry J. Kazianis (@Grecianformula) serves as a Senior Director at the Center for the National Interest in Washington, D.C.

Written By

Harry J. Kazianis (@Grecianformula) serves as a Senior Director at the Center for the National Interest in Washington, D.C., a Washington D.C.-based think tank founded by President Richard Nixon in 1994. Kazianis in the past served as Editor-In-Chief of the Diplomat and as a national security-focused fellow at CSIS, the Potomac Foundation, and the University of Nottingham (UK). His ideas have been published in the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, CNN, CNBC, and many other outlets across the political spectrum.

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