What to Watch as Nuclear Concerns with North Korea Rise

Three missile launches in two days, threats against the US over joint military exercises, and the display in Pyongyang of its newest rockets intended to carry nuclear weapons to the American mainland by North Korea all served to start a new cycle of provocations.

The leader of North Korea, Kim Jong Un, vowed to significantly expand his nuclear weapons program at the beginning of the year and has repeatedly refused to participate in the US-led negotiations on reducing his nuclear aspirations.

Kim probably believes there is little prospect of additional sanctions after enduring them because of a number of nuclear and missile tests in 2017: Longtime allies China and Russia used their influence at the UN Security Council last year to stop any further sanctions.

The US might not be able to provide sufficient incentives to roll back North Korea’s nuclear capabilities at this juncture because of the country’s advanced nuclear capabilities.

Some significant events in the upcoming months:

1. Nuclear tests

More than two years ago, Kim revealed to his ruling party his desire for tactical nuclear weapons for use in military operations and his desire to expand the number of thermonuclear bombs his dictatorship can carry on long-range missiles.

Thus, the following nuclear test by North Korea might involve two explosions. The first would be a weapon that could be installed on artillery with a larger range. The second would be of a bomb more potent than the one it dropped on Hiroshima during World War II, which was predicted to have a yield of between 120 and 250 kilotons in 2017.

The last six nuclear tests conducted by North Korea were all failures. All six of North Korea’s previous nuclear tests have been conducted at its mountainous Punggye-ri test site. The US, South Korea and Japan have warned for months that the facility appears ready for another test.

2. ICBMs

The nation announced its priority for developing intercontinental ballistic missiles at a military parade in February. The presentation featured merely two models of ICBMs, the largest demonstration ever by North Korea.

Its Hwasong-17, which experts claim is capable of transporting up to three warheads to the US, was the first. North Korea claims that subsequent launches of the missile have been successful despite the fact that the rocket’s first full test explosion occurred over Pyongyang last year.

The missile and its multiple warhead configuration will likely undergo additional flight testing by the regime to see how well it can withstand reentry into the atmosphere and hit possible targets.

The second missile is an ICBM with solid fuel. At the parade, North Korea displayed five missile canisters but did not display the actual weapon it has been working to develop for years. Compared to the state’s current stockpile of liquid-fuel ICBMs, the solid-propellant missiles would be simpler to deploy and quicker to fire, giving Washington less time to shoot one down.

3. Operational Exercises

Ankit Panda, a senior fellow in the nuclear policy program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, claims that North Korea has been choosing exercises that demonstrate its ability to strike quickly rather than one-off missile tests to gauge performance.

In a February post for the Seoul-based NK News, Panda stated that North Korea “may carry out future liquid-propellant ICBM tests, including simultaneous or closely staggered launches of numerous ICBMs to simulate the operating conditions for a strategic retaliatory attack on the U.S.”

In November, when it launched at least 23 missiles from various locations, including the first ballistic missile to cross a maritime boundary with South Korea, North Korea demonstrated its desire to synchronize diverse assets to mimic an attack.

4. Solid-fuel engine

In December of last year, North Korea conducted a test of a brand-new, large-diameter solid-propellant missile engine. In addition to using the engine in a prospective ICBM, North Korea might employ intermediate-range missiles with the engine to attack both Japan and American nuclear installations in places like Guam.

5. Drones

In December, North Korea launched drones across the border into South Korea, and one of Kim’s top priorities is to create unmanned aerial vehicles, according to his plans. According to NK News, the state hasn’t released any new military drone or unmanned aerial vehicle concepts since 2012. According to the US Defense Intelligence Agency, it now has earlier variants of larger drone systems that it bought from China and Russia.

6. Markets

North Korea has been a threat to South Korea for many years, and market movements are rarely significantly impacted by isolated provocations from the border. Yet, certain South Korean military stocks have been increasing this year, extending their gains from 2022, when shares were bolstered by anticipation for larger international orders in the context of Russia’s conflict in Ukraine.

After gains in 2022 for both businesses, shares of Hanwha Aerospace Co. and Firstec Co. have increased by nearly 18% and 4%, respectively, so far in 2023. But, several defense equities have decreased this year following a 2022 rise. After increasing by more than 34% last year, LIG Nex1 Co. has decreased by about 18% this year. After a 37% surge in 2022, Hyundai Rotem Co. is down roughly 9% so far in 2023.

Source: Bloomberg

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