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North Korea claims to show off ‘greatest’ nuclear attack capability

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his daughter attended a huge, propaganda-filled military parade on Feb. 8 in Pyongyang, as seen in state TV footage. (Video: KRT)
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SEOUL — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has taken his “beloved daughter” to a huge military parade that, Pyongyang claims, showed off its most advanced weapons, including “tactical nuclear units” and intercontinental ballistic missiles.

It was the second military outing for the tweenager, believed to be called Kim Ju Ae, in as many days, fueling suspicions that Kim is trying to position her as his heir apparent.

Their latest outing was at a huge, propaganda-filled parade through the center of the North Korean capital late Wednesday, marking the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Korean People’s Army. The parade is closely watched by outside observers for clues about advances in North Korea’s nuclear arsenal.

The high-profile military showcase featured intercontinental ballistic missiles that demonstrated the country’s “greatest nuclear strike capability,” the state-run Rodong Sinmun newspaper said.

Official parade photos showed at least 11 Hwasong-17 missiles, more than North Korea ever has at a single event. The weapon, which was first tested last year, is North Korea’s largest intercontinental ballistic missile, with the potential to reach the continental United States.

“North Korea’s quantitative advances with its ICBM force now render the arithmetic facing U.S. missile defense planning deeply unfavorable,” wrote Ankit Panda, a nuclear policy expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

It was not immediately clear from the photos what advances in technology North Korea had made. Some of the ICBMs appeared to be solid-propellant missiles, which are “generally far more responsive” than their liquid-fuel counterparts, Panda wrote in an analysis for the NK Pro website.

Solid-propellant missiles can be launched much more quickly, making preparations more difficult to spot with satellites. Late last year, North Korea said it had successfully tested a solid-fuel motor for rockets.

North Korea also purported to show off “tactical nuclear units” that can pose direct threats to neighboring countries, including South Korea.

Rachel Minyoung Lee, a nonresident fellow at the Stimson Center, said North Korea’s military parade serves as “a compelling case for why the country has to keep pouring resources into national defense.”

“And if that is the case, what could possibly be more persuasive and powerful than mobilizing the supreme leader’s daughter to represent future generations?” she said.

The daughter has now appeared in public four times since November, all of them at important military events, fueling speculation about whether she is being groomed to be the regime’s fourth-generation successor.

North Koreans, already struggling, now contend with cold snap, covid

The highly choreographed event drew tens of thousands of troops and civilians to Kim Il Sung Square in the capital. Satellite photos of Pyongyang over the past weeks have shown vehicles, horses and personnel formations in preparation for the parade.

While Kim stages a fanfare to highlight his nuclear ambitions, North Korea’s civilian economy faces a deepening crisis. The pandemic restrictions on crucial trade exacerbated the country’s economic isolation. North Korea watchers raised concerns about growing food insecurity, citing signs of agricultural failures and supply shortages in local markets.

“As the capital Pyongyang prepares for an ostentatious military parade, more than 40% of North Koreans suffer from malnutrition amid widespread food insecurity,” Boram Jang, East Asia researcher at Amnesty International, said in a news release.