North Korea recently conducted a test of its new KN-11 submarine-launched ballistic missile, further enhancing its nuclear delivery options amid heightening tensions on the Korean Peninsula and with the larger international community. The SLBM test was quickly followed by the firing of five short-range ballistics missiles into the Sea of Japan.
These were the first major tests of advanced weaponry since the recent round of tougher sanctions imposed on Pyongyang by the United Nations, the U.S. and Japan.
Escalating threats from North Korea’s communist regime are indicators of a future military attack or another nuclear test in the coming days, according to a recent U.S. intelligence assessment.
Intelligence agencies issued the assessment in mid-March warning that threatening rhetoric from Pyongyang in response to large-scale U.S.-South Korean military exercises and new sanctions had reached the highest level in years.
The unclassified assessment circulated within government states that the intense language suggests North Korea is preparing for a surprise military strike or a demonstration of strategic capability, such as a SLBM firing or another underground nuclear blast, according to U.S. officials familiar with the report.
On March 13 North Korean state news media warned its missiles could destroy New York City in a thermonuclear attack.
“Our hydrogen bomb is much bigger than the one developed by the Soviet Union,” the outlet DPRK Today stated.
“If this H-bomb were to be mounted on an intercontinental ballistic missile and fall on Manhattan in New York City, all the people there would be killed immediately and the city would burn down to ashes,” the report said.
Such threatening rhetoric from Pyongyang is typical of the communist regime’s propaganda. However, in the past several weeks the tone and level of threats have been unusually harsh, according to the officials, and that is increasing fears among intelligence analysts that the stepped-up threats are a prelude to military action or nuclear and long-range missile tests.
The SLBM test appears to violate a recent U.N. Security Council Resolution, No. 2277, which on March 5 tightened economic sanctions on North Korea in an effort to block development of nuclear arms and nuclear missiles.
The new resolution states that a 2015 SLBM missile ejection test violated earlier U.N. resolutions aimed at curbing both nuclear and missile programs sponsored by the Pyongyang regime.
“All such ballistic missile activities contribute to [North Korea’s] development of nuclear weapons delivery systems and increase tension in the region and beyond,” the resolution says.
South Korean President Park Geun-hye also warned March 21 that Pyongyang could carry out additional military provocations and urged the country to remain vigilant. “Now is a very crucial time for the future of the Korean Peninsula,” she said during a meeting with aides at the presidential office in Seoul.
North Korea’s dictator Kim Jong-un vowed in recent days that his country would soon conduct a nuclear warhead test blast and fire several kinds of ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads.
U.S. military and civilian intelligence agencies have stepped up monitoring of North Korea in anticipation of further provocations.
Disclosure of the SLBM test came as North Korea on March 21 fired five short-range ballistic missiles and has threatened to conduct further nuclear and long-range missile tests in defiance of international pressure. Two days after the SLBM test, North Korea fired two medium-range Nodong ballistic missiles. The road-mobile Nodongs were fired from the country’s east coast, and one traveled about 500 miles before falling into the sea. The second missile blew up in flight.
• Bill Gertz is the national security columnist for The Washington Times and senior editor of The Washington Free Beacon.