Kim Jong Un's New Weapons at North Korea Parade Could Be Warning to Biden

North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un unveiled new weapons at Thursday's military parade in Pyongyang, in what could be a warning to President-Elect Joe Biden that his forces stand ready if bilateral ties continue to deteriorate into a fresh crisis on the Korean peninsula.

Kim presided over the military parade on Thursday evening, marking the end of the eighth Workers' Party congress bringing together key regime figures to hear the dictator set his priorities for the immediate future.

Speculation was rife that Kim would use the opportunity to unveil new weapons just before Biden takes office next week; a pointed reminded that North Korea remains one of America's most pressing foreign policy concerns. American and South Korean spies were closely watching the congress and the parade, hoping to gain fresh insight on Kim's arsenal and intentions.

The parade included what appeared to be new submarine launched ballistic missiles—known as SLBMs. North Korea first tested an SLBM in 2019, raising the possibility that Pyongyang could mount nuclear warheads on missiles deployed at sea making it more difficult for the U.S. to neutralize its nuclear capability in a single massive strike.

North Korea is now believed to be developing a submarine capable of carrying and firing the SLBMs, which would in theory be topped with nuclear warheads.

The Korean Central News Agency lauded what it called "the world's most powerful weapon," which it said "entered the square one after another, powerfully demonstrating the might of the revolutionary armed forces."

The missiles were labelled Pukguksong-5, which would make them an upgraded version of the Pukguksong-4 unveiled during a military parade in October. Michael Duitsman, a researcher at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, said the new version "definitely looks longer."

Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, South Korea, told the Yonhap News Agency that the decision to unveil yet another SLBM could be read as a signal to Biden.

"North Korea doesn't need an SLBM," Yang said. "It is not for the South, it's for the U.S. In that aspect, it sends a message aimed at pressuring the U.S. ahead of the incoming Biden administration."

"But the North is not sending a message to the U.S. warning that it will take action," Yang added. "It is sending an unspoken message to force the incoming administration to prioritize North Korea in their policies and to withdraw hostile policy against the North."

The parade also showed what appeared to be short-range solid-fuel ballistic missiles. North Korea has been working to transition from liquid-fueled weapons to solid-fueled replacements, which are more stable, require less preparation time to launch and can be left in a fueled state ready to fire.

"The sheer diversity of new short-range solid-fuel missiles we've seen over the last few years in North Korea is pretty amazing," wrote Ankit Panda, a Stanton senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace's nuclear policy program. "They'd like us to notice that they're getting more proficient with larger solid rocket boosters," Panda said.

Kim told congress delegates he would push to expand and modernize North Korea's nuclear arsenal, though he has been open about the country's dire economic situation. Still, Kim's success in nuclear proliferation is a key pillar of his leadership, and with a likely hostile Biden administration incoming Pyongyang will be keen to sharpen its nuclear deterrent.

Kim opted for an aggressive tone towards the U.S. during the congress, telling attendees America is the North's "foremost principal enemy."

Biden has promised to break from President Donald Trump's strategy of direct engagement with Kim, and observers expect a focus on lower working level talks rather than the high profile summits and meetings between Trump and Kim.

On the campaign trail, Biden dismissed Kim as a "thug" and vowed that the "days of cozying up to dictators are over." North Korea has been equally dismissive of Biden, last year calling him a "rabid dog" that needed to be "beaten to death with a stick."

Kim Jong Un on TV in Seoul
A man watches a television screen showing news footage of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attending the eighth congress of the ruling Workers' Party held in Pyongyang, at a railway station in Seoul on January 6, 2021. JUNG YEON-JE/AFP via Getty Images/Getty