North Korea likely faked the launch of its largest intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), the Hwasong-17, according to U.S. and South Korean intelligence. The test took place March 24 and was accompanied by a Hollywood-style propaganda video starring the Supreme Leader, Kim Jong-un, himself.
The Hwasong-17 is a long-range ICBM that may be capable of carrying nuclear warheads. It is also powerful enough to put the entire continental U.S. (and Canada) in its range.
The missile launched last week was likely a Hwasong-15 — an ICBM that Pyongyang already tested in 2017 — according to South Korean and U.S. intelligence.
So why the false claims? North Korea may be trying to compensate for a failed missile launch that took place on March 16, when an ICBM, which analysts are saying was the real Hwasong-17, exploded in mid-air at an early stage of the launch.
Pieces of the exploded missile fell back into Pyongyang and damaged infrastructure. South Korean intelligence told a local outlet that a crater was seen next to Kim Jong-il Political and Military University, and that the roof of the building had been blown off.
South Korean intelligence also obtained information that two people may have been killed because of the falling debris but are still determining whether that report is accurate.
Analyst Yang Moo-jin talked to AFP about why North Korea felt compelled to lie about its missile launch.
“The March 16 launch failed spectacularly and — worse — it happened in Pyongyang so people got to witness the dramatic failure,” Yang said.
“Kim probably thought he needed something very strong to make up for it, and that’s probably why he lied.”
Yang also said the North Korean state likely wanted to “shore up citizens’ loyalty ahead of the Day of the Sun by branding Kim Jong-un a capable leader of a military powerhouse.”
The Day of the Sun is the anniversary of the birth of Kim Il-sung, the founding leader of North Korea, on April 15.
The March 24 missile launch was promoted on North Korean television with a dramatic, Top Gun-style action video showing Kim directing the launch of the ICBM personally.
Rachel Minyoung Lee, a non-resident fellow for 38 North, a program that analyzes North Korean events, told AFP that this propaganda video was a “major departure” from past North Korean propaganda efforts. She called it “a revolution in the history of North Korean propaganda.”
Lee said that state propaganda has undergone evolution to keep up with foreign media since Kim became leader, but this video marked a new height.
“It had to up its game and make propaganda content more real, interesting, and persuasive,” she said, even if the contents of the video were fake in actuality.