Night Watch

North Korea: The Workers' Party of Korea daily newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, published articles on yesterday's commemoration of the ceasefire that ended the Korean War. The activities included a military parade and speeches by senior officers. In his speech, Vice Marshal Hwang Pyong-so, the Director of the General Political Bureau - the top military commissar - warned that North Korea will fire "a nuclear-tipped rocket toward a major US city if Washington keeps attempting to undermine North Korea's sovereignty."

The Commander of the Strategic Rocket Forces, Colonel General Kim Rak-kyom, said "it is a pipe dream to believe the US-led missile defense system will be able to intercept the North's missile."

Comment: Public statements by senior military officers normally have little significance in this communist state because they parrot the Party line. However, their publication in the Workers' Party daily newspaper gives them significance they otherwise would not have because every item in Rodong Sinmun is approved by a senior party official. The military is the channel, but the Party is sending the communication.

The communication is in two parts. First is that the North's leaders want the US to believe that North Korea has a missile capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to a US city. That is probably meant to be a factual statement, although it is camouflaged as a warning. However, the conditional clause about the need for the US to stop undermining sovereignty is so vague as to have no meaning. The first part of the message is the range and the warhead of a North Korean ballistic missile. The North is not on the verge of shooting at this time.

The second part of the communication is primarily a taunt, but it shows that North Korean leaders are worried about US and Allied missile defense systems. It also raises a suspicion that the North Koreans might be trying to develop penetration aids for their ballistic missile so that they can defeat anti-missile defenses.

Final note. Open source materials cannot confirm whether North Korea has the missile and the warhead it claims. It probably has both by now, but the quantities and reliability are not known. The test facilities it has built can accommodate a long range missile with large engines. It tried to launch a technology demonstrator/space launch vehicle in 2006, but it failed in flight. It has boasted repeatedly about its work on new warheads. It has had eight years since then to fix and upgrade the Taepo Dong 2 and to develop a nuclear warhead for it or a successor missile.

Night Watch

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