The Buzz

Here Were the Missiles on Display in North Korea’s Latest Parade

However, the vehicles that carried the ICBMs are notable. Instead of being carried by the vehicle used during its flight tests, the Hwasong-14 was mounted on a flatbed trailer being towed by a truck. This tractor-trailer configuration was previously seen last April, but in that parade the trailer featured a large canister and equipment for erecting the canister—akin to China’s DF-31A ICBM. Both the canister and erector equipment were absent in the recent parade. The lack of a canister and erector, as well as the fact that the Hwasong-14’s rocket engine was covered up, suggest that the tractor-trailer configuration seen in today’s parade was for display purposes only. The Hwasong-15 was carried by the TEL that was used in its November 2017 flight test, but only four TELs appeared in the parade.The number of TELs in today’s parade is important because it represents a key vulnerability in North Korea’s ICBM force. All of the North Korean vehicles capable of carrying ICBMs are based on Chinese-made heavy logging trucks that were modified by the North Koreans to carry missiles, but no more than six of these trucks have been seen at one time. Kim Jong-un recently claimed that North Korea is capable of indigenously producing more large TELs for its missile forces. The TEL for the Hwasong-15 does have one more extra axle than the original logging truck, and the presence of five Hwasong-15s at the parade shows that the North Koreans can successfully modify their existing capabilities. However, the parade offers no evidence to substantiate Kim’s claim that the country can manufacture new TELs.

Looking beyond the military hardware featured in the parade, it’s important to consider the message the parade was trying to convey. Inferring the strategic intent or signal behind such actions is a very difficult task, and there is probably no one right answer, but that probably won’t stop commentators from declaring the parade a threatening display of power meant to intimidate or divide the United States and South Korea. This is a plausible explanation, but there is another way to view the parade that is equally plausible.

The recent diplomatic rapprochement between North and South Korea is a welcome change from escalating rhetoric about military action that characterized much of 2017. The military parade, which was announced shortly after the beginning of North-South dialogue, may be intended as a signal to North and South Koreans rather than the United States. Kim may be the most important individual within North Korea, but he depends on several power structures within his government for support and legitimacy. Conducting a military parade in the midst of diplomatic talks between Pyongyang and Seoul shows these power structures that Kim is not negotiating from a position of weakness and that military options for defending and advancing North Korea’s interests are not being neglected. The potential message the parade sends to Seoul is a reiteration of Kim’s bottom line that talks will not lead to denuclearization or regime change.

This article by Eric Gomez originally appeared at the Cato Institute.

Image: Reuters