North Korean leader Kim Jong-un inspects the long-range strategic ballistic rocket Hwasong-12 in this undated image. Photo: KCNA via Reuters

Inadequate evidence that North Korea has fully developed its intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capability could be a sign that Pyongyang doesn’t intend to go all the way in deploying such weapons and is mainly using them as a “political” rather than military deterrent, UPI quoted a US analyst as saying on Thursday.

Michael Elleman, a senior fellow for Missile Defense at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Washington, DC, told UPI on Wednesday that if Kim Jong-un’s main objective is to achieve deterrence by merely raising the specter of a nuke strike on the US, then further testing is probably not necessary. He says this raises a chance that Pyongyang will stop short of full-scale development and come to the bargaining table.

Elleman made his analysis against the backdrop of an unprecedented diplomatic initiative by North Korea to engage Seoul. Elleman also noted Pyongyang’s unexpected move in signaling some interest in discussing denuclearization with the US.

Kim “intimated that the North Koreans were done developing the weapons,” Elleman said, alluding to a New Year’s speech by the North Korean leader.

“They’ve said they’ve got their arsenal, they’re just going to do production now.

“But that surprised me a little bit, because he had not fully developed these long-range systems,” said Elleman, a recognized US expert on the North’s missile program.

Elleman went on to say that North Korea’s ICBMs were tested in a way that creates some doubt about its claims of successfully acquiring the ability to hit the US mainland with nuclear missiles. One big question is whether it actually has a warhead that can survive reentry and hit a designated target.

North Korea, according to Elleman, may want to avoid full-scale development and deployment of an ICBM force because of the program’s heavy costs and the growing weight of international sanctions.

He cautioned, however, that it’s still unclear what Kim really wants from a nuclear-weapons development program that has exacted such a heavy toll on the North Korean people.

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