The Two Koreas’ Recent Arms Displays Are Sending Very Different Messages

The Two Koreas’ Recent Arms Displays Are Sending Very Different Messages
A TV screen at the Seoul Railway Station shows a news report about North Korea’s SLBM missiles displayed at a military parade, Seoul, South Korea, Jan. 15, 2021 (AP photo by Lee Jin-man).

North Korea has announced that it successfully tested a new, smaller submarine-launched ballistic missile, or SLBM, on Tuesday. State media claimed the missile—launched from the same submarine from which Pyongyang tested its first Pukguksong-1 SLBM in August 2016—has “advanced control guidance technologies, including flank mobility and gliding skip mobility,” designed to make it harder to track and intercept. The name of the submarine used for the launch—the “8.24 Yongung”—also seems noteworthy, as a reflection of the importance Pyongyang puts on this vessel: It means “hero” and apparently signifies the Aug. 24 date of the 2016 SLBM launch.

The test is another sign that Pyongyang is trying to secure a second-strike capability—the ability to respond to a nuclear attack with its own nuclear weapons. The aim would be to protect the regime and perhaps even cause Washington to hesitate in defending Seoul in the event of an attack, for fear of possible North Korean SLBM strikes.

The launch came on the heels of an extravagant display of force the previous week. Pyongyang showed off some of its new weapons and military hardware on Oct. 11, to mark the 76th anniversary of its ruling Workers’ Party the day before. It’s a common ritual in the insular one-party state, but this year, the format was different. For the first time, new additions to the country’s arsenal were on display at a museum-style exhibition rather than a military parade or other major celebration. 

Keep reading for free!

Get instant access to the rest of this article by submitting your email address below. You'll also get access to three articles of your choice each month and our free newsletter:

Or, Subscribe now to get full access.

Already a subscriber? Log in here .

What you’ll get with an All-Access subscription to World Politics Review:

A WPR subscription is like no other resource — it’s like having a personal curator and expert analyst of global affairs news. Subscribe now, and you’ll get:

  • Immediate and instant access to the full searchable library of tens of thousands of articles.
  • Daily articles with original analysis, written by leading topic experts, delivered to you every weekday.
  • Regular in-depth articles with deep dives into important issues and countries.
  • The Daily Review email, with our take on the day’s most important news, the latest WPR analysis, what’s on our radar, and more.
  • The Weekly Review email, with quick summaries of the week’s most important coverage, and what’s to come.
  • Completely ad-free reading.

And all of this is available to you when you subscribe today.