Kim Jong-un’s ‘shock factor’ move to send a stark warning to Trump ahead of US election

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Kim Jong-un attended the military parade in Pyongyang which marked the 75th anniversary of the Workers’ Party. North Korea chose to display its new nuclear weapon as a “shock factor” move according to Harry Kazianis, Senior Director of Korean Studies at the Center for the National Interest.

He told “Kim Jong-un knows that the entire world was watching what he would say, do and display during the recent Workers’ Party celebrations.

“At the same time, he knew testing a new ICBM would create too much controversy—and perhaps make Donald Trump feel angry enough to go back to the dark days of nuclear threats and fire and fury style comments.

“Kim did the most media-savvy thing he could do, while not creating enough tensions to spark a crisis, but also show to the entire world he is the head of a nuclear weapons state.”

The event last weekend came just a few weeks ahead of the US presidential election.

Cristina Varriale, a Research Fellow in Proliferation and Nuclear Policy at the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies, added to why North Korea has chosen now to display the missile.

She told “From an international perspective, the world was watching this parade and now trying to understand the new capabilities that were revealed, and it also reminds us that North Korea has not stopped developing its nuclear weapons programme, despite diplomacy in 2018/19.

“This is just before a US presidential election as well, so a not-so-subtle way of reminding Washington that the North Korean nuclear programme persists.”

Ms Varriale added that the display also showed “strength and success” to North Korea’s domestic audience who may be suffering from the impacts of coronavirus restrictions, two consecutive typhoons and international sanctions.

North Korea previously displayed missiles at military parades, but not tested them immediately, according to Ms Varriale.

In 2010, the Musudan, a mobile intermediate-range ballistic missile was showcased by North Korea in a military display.

But the weapon was only later tested in 2016 and a number of times since.

Ms Varriale said: “North Korea has managed to position itself in the sweet spot of being able to continue to develop its nuclear and missile programmes in the context of reduced military tension and insufficient enforcement of sanctions.

“Of course, we haven’t seen their new ICBM be tested, but that will be an action that is much harder to ignore in the US. But testing this new system in the short term isn’t a given.”

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Although it is unclear when North Korea will test its new long range ballistic missile, Ms Varriale highlighted that “what the showcasing of these new nuclear systems does show us though, is that North Korea continues to work on developing its nuclear weapons programme”.

Mr Kazianis also said it is unlikely that North Korea would attack the US with nuclear weapons as America would retaliate with its own nuclear force.

He said: “Kim can make threats, sure. Would he carry them out?

“No, as he knows any attack on the US homeland, our bases in Asia or our allies with nuclear weapons would be North Korea’s self-imposed suicide.

“America would launch a devastating nuclear counter strike, ending the Kim regime in perhaps 20 minutes. Kim can threaten anything—but there is a difference between propaganda and action.”

Mr Kim ended North Korea’s moratorium on nuclear testing at the start of this year and nuclear talks between Washington and Pyongyang have halted.

Mr Kazianis added: “That is the biggest reason Kim shows off these missiles—to set the table for any future talks.

“Kim is signalling to the world that the longer Washington waits to try and hammer out a deal the more concessions either Trump or Biden will have to give.”

Ms Varriale said the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, could be downplaying North Korea’s parade in order to leave room for future diplomacy.

But she warns that the biggest factor influencing nuclear talks between the two sides will be the result of the upcoming US election.

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