Chairman Kim Jong Un: Hwasong-17 ICBM Test Proves North Korea Can Contain America’s Nuclear Threats

Following the second successful test firing of the Hwasong-17 intercontinental range ballistic missile (ICBM) on November 18 by North Korea, the head of the ruling Korean Workers’ Party Chairman Kim Jong Un elaborated on the importance of the new missile to the country’s security. He stated after having personally observed the launch: “The test-fire clearly proved the reliability of the new major strategic weapon system to be representative of the DPRK’s [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s] strategic forces and its powerful combat performance as the strongest strategic weapon in the world.” The state run Korean Central News Agency added that Chairman Kim attended the launch to “confirm once again that the nuclear forces of the DPRK have secured another reliable and maximum capacity to contain any nuclear threat.”

Intercontinental range ballistic missiles carrying thermonuclear warheads have served as an equaliser between the United States and North Korea, which have been technically at war since 1950, with the U.S.’ ability to escalate to nuclear warfare having provided a key advantage in the Korean War armistice negotiations in 1951-53. Threats of nuclear attacks have been used several times since then during standoffs between the two countries. The U.S. has had the ability to deliver nuclear strikes against North Korea since the 1940s due to its massive military presence in East Asia, and previously deployed hundreds of warheads in South Korea with the arsenal there peaking at 950 warheads aimed at the north. 

North Korea’s inability to retaliate against possible American strikes on its cities by attacking the United States has long placed it at a major disadvantage, with this partly resolved only in 2017 when the first ICBMs, the Hwasong-14 and Hwasong-15, were successfully tested and reported to have entered service. This development was seen by many analysts as key to seriously reducing American options for attacks, including nuclear strikes, against the East Asian state, thus aligning with Chairman Kim’s reference to containment of nuclear threats from Washington. The Hwasong-17 is speculated to have a similar range to the Hwasong-15, but introduce the ability to carry multiple independently re-targetable warheads. As North Korea emerged as a world leader in fielding hypersonic glide vehicles, being only the third country to deploy they after China and Russia, the possibility remains significant that the Hwasong-17 could in future integrate such vehicles for superior evasive capabilities against enemy air defences. 

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