Fact Check: Did North Korea Display Most Nuclear Weapons Ever at Parade?

North Korea's nuclear weapon capability has long been a source of pride for the country, with estimates by analysts suggesting that it has 40 to 50 warheads in its arsenal.

Much like its neighbor to the north, the country uses grand military parades to show off its weaponry to the world, with lines of tanks, missiles, and submarine technology greeted with domestic applause.

At one such event last week, marking the 75th anniversary of North Korea's military, it sent out what some claimed was the largest number of nuclear-capable missiles to line the streets of Pyongyang.

Military parade North Korea
People in Seoul, South Korea, watch a television show North Korea's 75th anniversary of the founding of the armed forces day military parade. North Korea held a military parade in Pyongyang to mark the 75th founding anniversary of its armed forces, an informed source said, in what was seen as a highly choreographed event to flaunt its military might and foster national unity. Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

The Claim

A tweet posted by Daily Loud, on February 9, 2023, which has been viewed more than nine million times, includes photos of nuclear weapons on parade in North Korea.

The tweet states: "North Korea shows off largest-ever number of nuclear missiles at parade."

The Facts

The claim that last week's parade was North Korea's largest display of nuclear weapons was attributed by some news outlets to the country's state media.

A video posted by Global News claimed that "state-run news agency KRT" had said it was the largest-ever display of nuclear missiles in a military parade. Newsweek was unable to find the original claim made by KRT.

While state media claims should be treated with a healthy amount of skepticism, analysis by independent experts corroborated that it was the largest display of nuclear weaponry.

Ankit Panda, Stanton senior fellow in the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, wrote on Twitter that there were up to a dozen devices on display.

Panda tweeted: "Need to see video, but it looks like 10-12 Hwasong-17 ICBMs made an appearance. This is cumulatively more ICBM launchers than we've ever seen before at a North Korean parade."

Speaking to Newsweek, however, Panda said: "It'd be more accurate to say largest display of intercontinental-range ballistic missiles (ICBM)."

Vann H. Van Diepen, a Korea expert who spent over three decades inside the U.S. government prior to now working as a consultant for North Korea analysts 38 North, told Newsweek that while likely the largest number of ICBMs on display, more nuclear firepower had been paraded before.

"One aspect of the question concerns what a 'nuclear missile' is," Van Diepen said.

"If you count both nuclear-only and dual-capable systems as 'nuclear missiles,' then the recent parade was not the largest display.

"The April 2022 parade featured fewer ICBMs, but more short-range ballistic missiles (SRBM)—and more types of SRBMs—and Ground Launched Cruise Missile, (GLCM), and added submarine launched ballistic missiles (SLBM). By my rough count, there were 77 'nuclear missiles' by this typology on February 9, 2023, and 109 in April 2022.

"If you count only ICBMs, IRBMs, and SLBMs (other than the KN-23), it looks like 15 in 2023 and about 11 in 2022. And counting only ICBMs would make 2023 the clear winner."

While the sheer display of weapons may be a cause for concern, Van Diepen said that some analysts had questioned whether any of the nuclear warheads, necessary to create explosive missile payloads, were small enough to fit on the missiles they had paraded.

"And, of course, it is unclear how many real 'missiles' were paraded, as opposed to mock-ups, training missiles, and/or possibly empty ICBM-sized canisters and GLCM/KN-25 launch tubes," Van Diepen said.

So, while it may be that North Korea showed off the largest number of one category of nuclear weapons, it does not appear that its 75th military anniversary parade was the biggest display of its overall nuclear arsenal.

North Korea's nuclear weapon development program was lauded on Russian state TV. Presenter Sergey Mardan praised North Korea for threatening to use nuclear weapons against the United States during a February 3 broadcast.

"For them, independence is an absolute value for which they are prepared to do anything, including turning the whole world into dust," Mardan said.

"That's to say, when King Jong-un said back when Trump was still president that if you move your aircraft carriers toward the coast of North Korea, we'll...whack you with a nuclear bomb."

The Ruling

Needs Context

Needs Context.

While North Korean state media reported that its recent Pyongyang parade included the largest number of nuclear weapons on show, experts have said it was the largest parade of intercontinental ballistic missiles alone.

Analysis provided to Newsweek suggests that North Korea has paraded a larger overall number of nuclear weapons before, with fewer ICBMs and more shorter-range weapons.

FACT CHECK BY Newsweek's Fact Check team

Needs Context: The claim requires more information to set it in the appropriate context. The claim as presented may be partly true, but cannot be fully or correctly understood without the right context.
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