The New York Times
North Korea’s arsenal has grown rapidly. Here’s what’s inside.
SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea on Thursday tested what is known as a newly developed tactical guided missile that violates international sanctions. It was the country’s first ballistic missile test in a year and its first provocation to the Biden administration, prompting President Joe Biden to warn that there will be “reactions” if North Korea continues to escalate tensions on the Korean peninsula. A senior North Korean official, Ri Pyong Chol, defiantly responded on Saturday, warning that if the United States continues to “make thoughtless remarks without considering the consequences, it could face something that is not good”. Sign up for The Morning Newsletter from the New York Times. The United States has tried both sanctions and dialogue to convince North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons programs. Neither worked. Instead, North Korea has rapidly expanded its nuclear program and modernized its missile fleet under Kim Jong Un, the country’s young leader. The arsenal expansion is a growing threat to the United States and its allies in the region. Here’s what’s inside. There are nuclear warheads and more. North Korea’s ballistic missiles can carry nuclear warheads, and the country conducted six increasingly sophisticated underground nuclear tests between 2006 and 2017. The last four of these took place under Kim. The last and most powerful nuclear test was conducted in September 2017 when North Korea claimed to have detonated a thermonuclear or hydrogen bomb. The estimated explosive power of the device was between 50 and 300 kilotons. Just 100 kilotons would make the test six times as powerful as the bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima in 1945. North Korea extracted plutonium, an atomic bomb fuel, from its Soviet Union-designed nuclear reactor in Yongbyon, north of Pyongyang. Centrifuges are also operated to make weapons-enriched uranium, another bomb fuel. By January 2020, North Korea had 30 to 40 nuclear warheads and, according to an estimate by the Arms Control Association, could produce enough fissile material to make six or seven bombs a year. Though the world is preoccupied with the north’s nuclear weapons, the country also has thousands of tons of chemical and biological weapons resources stored in it that it can deliver with its missiles. When Kim’s estranged half-brother Kim Jong Nam was murdered in Kuala Lumpur in 2017, North Korea used the internationally banned VX nerve agent in the operation. Its missiles can travel greater distances. In 2017, North Korea made great strides in its weapons capabilities. That year the country fired its medium-range ballistic missile Hwasong-12 over Japan and threatened an “enveloping” strike over the US territory of Guam. Hwasong-14 and Hwasong-15, the country’s first ICBMs, were also tested. By the end of the year, Kim claimed his country had the opportunity to launch a nuclear strike on the continental United States. After 2017, Kim stopped testing nuclear weapons and long-range missiles but threatened to end his moratorium when talks with President Donald Trump collapsed in 2019. During a nightly military parade last October, North Korea showed off a new, untested ICBM that looked larger than any of the previous ones. And at a party convention in January, Kim doubled his nuclear build-up and offered a laundry list of weapons he allegedly wanted to develop. These included “multi-warhead” nuclear missiles, “hypersonic” missiles, solid fuel ICBMs fired from land and submarines, and “state-of-the-art tactical nuclear weapons”. Whether North Korea has mastered the technology needed to send an intercontinental nuclear warhead into space and then guide it back through the earth’s atmosphere is still unclear. North Korea has yet to prove that its warhead can withstand the intense heat and friction caused by reentry. His weapons are becoming more and more sophisticated. When North Korea resumed missile testing in 2019 after the collapse of the Kim-Trump talks, three new weapons, code-named KN-23, KN-24, and KN-25, were tested by outside experts. They all marked great advances in North Korea’s short-range ballistic missile program. Unlike the older rockets that used liquid fuel, all three new rockets used solid fuel. The new solid fuel weapons, which are mounted on mobile launch vehicles, are easier to transport and hide, and they take less time to prepare. At least two of them, KN-23 and KN-24, could perform low-altitude maneuvers, making them harder to intercept. At a military parade earlier this year, North Korea showed off a larger, improved version of the KN-23. Photos released by the North Korean media show that the weapon was tested on Thursday. The new missile was designed to be larger than KN-23 in order to carry a larger warhead and more fuel. Kim said in January that his country will also build a nuclear-powered submarine to acquire the funds to more clandestinely supply nuclear weapons to its opponents. North Korea has been testing its ballistic missiles launched by the Pukguksong submarine since 2015. During the military parades in October and earlier this year, North Korea showed two upgraded versions of its submarine-fired ballistic missile Pukguksong. The country currently only has one submarine that can launch a ballistic missile but says it is building a new one with greater capabilities. The arsenal “guarantees its success.” North Korea has one of the largest standing armies in the world with more than 1 million soldiers. But much of the equipment is old and out of date, and the military lacks fuel and spares. North Korea has tried to make up for its shortcomings by building nuclear weapons. Kim justifies the dynastic rule of his family over North Korea with the fact that the nuclear arsenal established by his government was a “treasure sword” that protects North Koreans from foreign invasion. He tells his people that they are constantly under threat from US attack. At the January party conference, Kim said that his weapons program “never excludes diplomacy” but “guarantees its success”. He has also said that unless Washington makes an offer that satisfies his administration, he no longer has any expectations of the dialogue. This week’s test reflected Kim’s determination, analysts said. It showed that “North Korea is pushing ahead with the plans Kim set out during the convention,” said Kim Dong-yub, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul. “As mentioned earlier, North Korea had no intention of offering a concession or making a proposal first.” This article originally appeared in the New York Times. © 2021 The New York Times Company