According to a CNN report, North Korea is planning to show off “hundreds” of missiles and rockets during its pre-Olympic parade on February 8, including dozens of intercontinental ballistic missiles.
The “diplomatic sources with deep knowledge of North Korea’s intentions” told CNN that the display will be intended to “scare the hell out of the Americans,” and might be followed by a missile test in the “near future.”
The ICBMs on display will purportedly include Hwasong-15 missiles, the new class tested in November that experts believe could be the first North Korean weapon that could reliably reach the United States, although some doubts have been expressed about the exact capabilities displayed during its test.
The Hwasong-15s will be the show horses of the parade if CNN’s sources are correct, and they turn out to be production models instead of mock-ups, but Pyongyang’s vast inventory of short-range rockets and artillery pieces is the threat that troubles Western military planners the most, since they could be used to inflict horrendous damage upon South Korea in the early hours of a military confrontation.
The U.S. Navy conducted a missile interception test from a site in Hawaii on Wednesday that has been widely reported as a failure, although the Pentagon has avoided official comment on the results.
President Trump’s tough talk about North Korea in his State of the Union address, coupled with the abrupt withdrawal of Victor Cha from consideration as ambassador to South Korea, caused some apprehension in South Korea according to the Washington Post on Wednesday.
Cha is well-known in South Korea and had been approved for the post by President Moon Jae-in, but there are concerns he was removed from consideration after he criticized the idea of conducting a limited “bloody nose” strike against North Korea to send a message to Pyongyang, even though he is otherwise seen as “hawkish” on North Korea.
South Koreans are also preparing for aggression or mischief by the North during the Olympic Games, possibly including a missile or nuclear test, or a security crisis at the Pyeongchang Games themselves.
“In all the years the Kim dynasty has been in power, North Korea has never once properly cooperated with South Korea,” observed a pessimistic Yoo Dong-ryul of the Korea Institute of Liberal Democracy in Seoul.
Others postulated that North Korea will refrain from serious provocations during the Games to maximize its opportunity for diplomatic mischief, presenting itself as a responsible nation-state to weaken the international coalition against its nuclear weapons program. From this perspective, an intimidating military parade without any worse provocations would send a finely-calibrated message of defiance.
North Korea’s Rodong Sinmun, which like all North Korean media is an organ of the dictatorship, published an editorial on Thursday denouncing Western sanctions, diplomacy, and culture as an “imperialist” plot to “plunder with ease by neutralizing the strength” of North Koreans and pave the way for a “war of aggression.”
“Only when all our service personnel and people heighten the revolutionary vigilance and are fully ready for action, can the might of our powerful war deterrent, the treasured sword of defending the peace, be given full rein,” the editorial advised, among other language that seemed intended to mobilize the population for conflict.