Map of North Korea with a figure of a missile on a transporter erector launcher (123rf)
North Korea may resume long-range ballistic missile tests next year, the US Defense Intelligence Agency said, warning that the regime is unlikely to renounce its weapons of mass destruction as it believes they are critical to the country’s survival.
The DIA, which provides intelligence to the Defense Department, released a report Friday examining Pyongyang’s military program, strategy and intentions, stressing that the North will continue to pose a “critical security challenge” for the US and its allies.
“North Korean leaders view nuclear arms as critical to regime survival,” the report said, noting that the regime retains its WMD capabilities. It is unlikely to give up all of its WMD stockpiles, delivery systems and production capabilities, it continued.
“Integrating a nuclear weapon with a ballistic missile and enabling that nuclear-armed missile to function reliably as a system is North Korea’s ultimate operational goal,” it said. “It is possible we could see a test of a long-range missile over the next year.”
The DIA also said the regime could conduct further nuclear tests to validate its weapons capabilities.
The North announced in 2018 that it would suspend all nuclear and long-range missile tests. This was in hopes that an upcoming summit with the US could yield substantial results, such as the US easing sanctions on the North. But after the nuclear talks collapsed in Hanoi, Vietnam, in 2019, Pyongyang said it no longer felt bound by the self-imposed moratorium and warned of new “strategic weapons.”
The North hasn’t conducted any nuclear or ICBM tests since September 2017. But it has carried out smaller tests and developed new types of missiles, with a flurry of activities recently. In September alone, the North tested a cruise missile, short-range ballistic missiles and a new hypersonic missile.
The report added that the North would also work to improve its newer solid-fueled ballistic missiles, which can be prepared for launch more quickly than liquid-fueled missiles.
“Even if additional flight tests of longer range systems do not occur in the near term, Pyongyang will probably focus on training and improving its missile forces which are increasingly central to North Korea’s deterrence strategy,” the agency said.
The North’s weapons development is in line with the country’s national security strategy, which has two main objectives, it said. They are to “ensure the Kim regime’s long-term security” -- by remaining a sovereign, independent country ruled by the Kim family -- and to retain the capability to exercise a dominant influence over the Korean Peninsula.
By Ahn Sung-mi (firstname.lastname@example.org