Seoul — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has put on a very public show of force — with an apparent nod to the longevity of his ruling family’s dynasty. Kim had a front-row seat as his country’s newest nuclear hardware was shown off at a massive military parade on Wednesday night, and for the second time in a week, his daughter and possible heir was also on display.
The dictator and family man brought his daughter Kim Ju Ae and his wife to the military parade. They all watched the annual spectacle, which featured more intercontinental ballistic missiles than ever before — weapons designed to reach targets in the U.S.
Kim ordered more than 40 missile launches during 2022, a record number, and watched several of them personally.
In South Korea just across the border, the U.S. Space Force, with powerful satellites and radar, was watching those launches, too.
“We’re using overhead satellite systems to continuously monitor for an actual launch, explained Lt. Colonel Josh McCullion, the Space Force Commander in South Korea.
While Kim has often attacked the U.S. with words, he has only test fired his weapons. Those tests are plenty dangerous themselves, as the missiles can explode in flight.
Last October, warning sirens sounded over northern Japan as a North Korean missile streaked overhead.
“An overflight of Japan, for example, always poses a huge risk,” said McCullion. “Debris is a real danger, for sure.”
Real enough that Japanese school children were put through a duck-and-cover exercise earlier this year.
Then there’s space debris to worry about, and McCullion said “a reentering satellite looks very similar to a reentering missile.”
If the North Koreans saw something like that, and mistook it for an incoming U.S. missile, they might retaliate, with lethal consequences.
So the U.S. government puts out warnings, and hopes that North Korea is paying attention.
Wednesday night’s parade, meanwhile, may have been a not-so-subtle hint of what’s in store for 2023.
McCullion said he expected the pace of North Korea’s missile launches “to maintain or potentially increase… I just think it’s going to be a much busier year, but it’s 100% why we’re here.”
The U.S. and its allies will be scaling up their military exercises, too, in a region already so tense that the price of a mistake or miscalculation could be war.