North Korea: Kim Jong Un’s daughter appears at military parade
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North Korea launched 69 missiles last year – more than in the previous five years combined. While the West beats back Russia in Ukraine and stares down China over Taiwan, the belligerent dictatorship has sought to draw ever more attention to its nuclear defensive and offensive capabilities.
North Korea fired four strategic cruise missiles towards the Sea of Japan last week, according to the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
This latest spate of hostility was intended as a demonstration of Pyongyang’s ability to conduct a nuclear counterattack against its enemies, the state media outlet said.
The totalitarian regime is one of NATO’s most outspoken critics and volatile foes. Kim Yo-jong – the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and Deputy Director of the Publicity and Information Department – described the US as the “arch-criminal” following Washington’s decision to send tanks to Ukraine in January.
North Korea has allegedly been producing artillery shells for Russia in exchange for oil, gas and basic foodstuffs – reports of such exchanges confirmed by satellite imagery. With China as its largest trading partner, Pyongyang also tows Beijing’s line on foreign policy, describing Taiwan as “an inseparable part of China” as tensions flared late last summer.
With the West’s attention consumed by its mightier allies, North Korea has become increasingly antagonistic towards its neighbours, testing more missiles in 2022 than any other year in its history.
The James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS) North Korea Missile Test Database tracks all launches capable of delivering a payload of at least 500kg (1100 pounds) at a distance of at least 300km (186 miles).
According to the CNS, the number of tests had already broken the all-time record by June and only increased further.
On October 3, Pyongyang plotted a trajectory over Japan for the first time since 2017. In its longest flight to date, the intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) travelled 2,800 miles before splashing down in the Pacific – a clear signal that US military installations on the island of Guam were within reach.
On November 2, the South Korean military reported that their northern neighbour had fired more missiles in a single day than ever before – 23.
Ballistic missiles are initially propelled and guided before completing an arch-like trajectory to fall on their target. Capable of delivering nuclear warheads, IRBMs have a range of up to 3,400 miles. Their intercontinental cousins (ICBMs), however, can reach virtually anywhere on Earth.
North Korea didn’t test a single IRBM or ICBM between 2018 and 2021, but there was at least one successful firing of each last year.
Between 2018 and 2019, two summits between Kim Jong-un and his US counterpart at the time Donald Trump ground the regime’s launch program to a halt. However, the lull was short-lived.
After a restless 2018, the 27 recorded firings in 2019 ended up beating the 2017 total. Nine missiles took to the skies in 2020, and just six doing so in 2021.
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Traditionally North Korea has used launches as retaliation for the US, Japan, South Korea and other Western allies conducting military operations in the region. Last week was no different.
According to the Pentagon, US and South Korean officials took part in a “tabletop” – or simulated – exercise to establish their contingency plan if Pyongyang armed one of their missiles with a nuclear weapon.
Seoul’s defence ministry claimed the drill focussed on “sharing ballistic missile target information and mastering detection, tracking, and interception procedures.” A joint statement with the US said: “Both sides affirmed that the alliance stands ready to respond to the DPRK’s nuclear threats.”
In the thick of this latest escalation, Kim-Yo-jong warned that North Korea could turn the Pacific into a “firing range” if NATO-led provocations continued.
According to the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), a US-based foreign policy think tank, there are 13,100 nuclear weapons in the world to date, divided among nine countries: Russia, the US, the UK, France, Pakistan, China, India, Israel and North Korea.
As the most recent nuclear weapon-possessing state, North Korea unilaterally withdrew from the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) in January 2003. The country is also not a part of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) and has conducted six tests in total since its first in 2006.
The NTI notes North Korea has “active and increasingly sophisticated nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, and is believed to possess chemical and biological weapons capabilities.”
The latest investigation by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists estimated Pyongyang had produced enough fissile material to build 45 to 55 nuclear weapons and “might have assembled 20 to 30 warheads for delivery primarily by medium-range ballistic missiles.”
The same non-profit is responsible for the infamous Doomsday Clock. On January 24, the hands were moved forward to 90 seconds to midnight – the closest to oblivion humanity has ever come – largely due to Russia’s war in Ukraine.
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