Written by Choe Sang-Hun
North Korea on Monday showed off its growing arsenal of missiles in one of its largest-ever exhibitions of military gear, as its leader, Kim Jong Un, said he didn’t believe repeated assertions by the United States that it harbored no hostile intent toward his country.
The display of might occurred a day after the North marked the 76th anniversary of its ruling Workers Party. It had often celebrated such anniversaries with large military parades. But this year, it instead staged an indoor exhibition of its missile forces Monday, and on Tuesday, the North’s Korean Central News Agency carried the text of Kim’s speech at the event.
Kim vowed to further build up his country’s military might.
“The US has frequently signaled it’s not hostile to our state, but there is no action-based evidence to make us believe that they are not hostile,” he said.
He called the United States “hypocritical” for helping South Korea boost its missile and other military forces in the name of “deterring” North Korea — just as it was condemning the North’s own development and tests of missiles as “provocations.” He said his missiles were for self-defense and peace, not for war, adding that he had no intention of giving them up.
“Our enemy is war itself, not a certain country or forces like South Korea and the US,” Kim said. “But our external efforts for peace does not in any way mean giving up our rights to self-defense.”
Photos from the exhibition showed an array of new missiles that North Korea has tested or unveiled in the past five years. The display included what looked like a hypersonic missile, along with a new, untested intercontinental ballistic missile that made its first public appearance in a military parade last October. That missile looked bigger than the three long-range missiles North Korea launched in 2017, before Kim started his diplomacy with Donald Trump, then the US president.
The exhibition, which included submarine-launched ballistic missiles, was one of the biggest displays of weaponry North Korea has staged in recent years. It came as Washington repeatedly urged the country to return to nuclear disarmament negotiations.
The Biden administration has said that negotiations can be held “any time, anywhere” and “without preconditions,” adding that it has “no hostile intent” toward the isolated country.
But North Korea insists that it will consider resuming dialogue only if Washington proves it’s not hostile — and not just by word, but “through action.”
Such demands have complicated all previous efforts by the United States and South Korea to engage the North in dialogue. The allies previously coaxed North Korea into returning to the negotiating table by offering humanitarian aid and scaling down or canceling their joint military drills.
But multiple rounds of negotiations between North Korea and several US administrations have all failed to end its nuclear weapons program.
Kim and Trump met three times between 2018 and 2019. But they failed to agree on how to roll back the North’s nuclear weapons program. Kim offered to dismantle only a portion of his country’s nuclear facilities in return for lifting sanctions. But the talks collapsed when Trump rejected that proposal, demanding a more comprehensive dismantlement of the North’s nuclear arsenal.
Since Kim’s second summit meeting with Trump ended without an agreement in early 2019, North Korea has refused to restart negotiations. Instead, it resumed missile tests — mostly with short-range ballistic missiles — and unveiled plans to build the kind of sophisticated weapons only the world’s major military powers possessed, such as a nuclear-powered submarine.
Last month, it conducted four missile tests, launching what it called a long-range strategic cruise missile and the hypersonic missile.
The military exhibition was meant to reassure North Koreans that their country’s military might has been expanding rapidly under Kim’s decade-old rule. It featured a new tank, as well as new solid-fuel missiles mounted on mobile launchers that the North has tested since 2019. The solid-fuel missiles signified major strides in the North’s missile technology because they are easier to transport and hide, and take less time to prepare for launching.
The display of might comes as his country’s economy has been hamstrung by the pandemic and years of international sanctions.
Outside the exhibition hall, North Korean soldiers displayed their martial-art skills while an air force squadron flew overhead, leaving behind streaks of red, blue and yellow smoke, photos released through state news media showed. Paratroopers descended from the sky with a Worker’s Party flag.
“We are a nuclear power with self-reliance,” a large banner said. Another banner read, “We are a great missile power.”