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Has Kim Jong Un Ever Looked Happier Than in This Celebration of an SLBM Launch?

North Korea's latest missile test is the latest development in its effort to bolster its nuclear deterrence capabilities.

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North Korean state media announced over the weekend that it had reached a major milestone in the country’s attempt to improve its missile capabilities: the successful firing of a submarine launched ballistic missile. The event was of course accompanied by the requisite release of triumphant photographs, including this gem, which has us wondering: Have you ever seen the supreme leader of North Korea look happier?

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This undated picture released from North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on May 9, 2015 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un smiling while observing an underwater test-fire of a submarine-launched ballistic missile at an undisclosed location at sea. North Korea said May 9 it had successfully test-fired a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) — a technology that could eventually offer the nuclear-armed state a survivable second-strike capability. AFP PHOTO / KCNA via KNS REPUBLIC OF KOREA

Cigarette and binoculars in hand, hair ruffled by the ocean breeze, smoke-stained chompers on full display, Kim Jong Un is something of a study here in gleeful despotism basking in glow of his military’s latest advance. And it’s no surprise he’s happy in this photograph: The step forward of an SLBM is a major advance for North Korea, which has been rumored to be preparing an ocean-launched missile for several months.

Still, North Korean armed forces have a long way to go before they put these missiles aboard their submarines. The missile in question reportedly only traveled about 150 meters, and the test’s primary aim was to show the feasibility of the first, tricky step of putting a missile in the air from below the ocean’s surface. According to arms experts, the missile fired on Saturday bears a resemblance to the SS-N-6 “Serb” missile, which the Soviet Union used aboard some of its nuclear-armed submarines. It’s also unclear whether North Korea has perfected the process of sufficiently miniaturizing nuclear warheads to place atop a missile of this nature.

This test should be seen as an incremental step toward North Korea’s goal of strengthening its nuclear deterrent, and Kim is placing himself in the front and center of that project, positioning himself in the propaganda images released strangely close to the missile launch. It’s difficult to judge distance in this photograph, but it would certainly appear that Kim was either much too close for safety to an untested weapon or was photoshopped in after the fact.

http://epa04739482%20An%20image%20obtained%20by%20Yonhap%20News%20Agency%20showing%20North%20Korean%20leader%20Kim%20Jong-un%20pointing%20at%20a%20ballistic%20missile%20believed%20to%20have%20been%20launched%20from%20underwater%20near%20Sinpo,%20on%20the%20northeast%20coast%20of%20North%20Korean,%2009%20May%202015.%20The%20KCNA,%20the%20North's%20state%20media,%20said%20North%20Korean%20leader%20Kim%20Jong-un%20watched%20the%20test-fire.%20%20EPA/KCNA%20SOUTH%20KOREA%20OUT%20%20BEST%20QUALITY%20AVAILABLE

An image obtained by Yonhap News Agency showing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un pointing at a ballistic missile believed to have been launched from underwater near Sinpo, on the northeast coast of North Korean, 09 May 2015. The KCNA, the North’s state media, said North Korean leader Kim Jong-un watched the test-fire. EPA/KCNA SOUTH KOREA OUT

Other images show Kim observing the launch:

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An image obtained by Yonhap News Agency showing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un looking through a pair of binoculars at a ballistic missile (not in frame), believed to have been launched from underwater near Sinpo, on the northeast coast of North Korean, 09 May 2015. The KCNA, the North’s state media, said North Korean leader Kim Jong-un watched the test-fire. EPA/KCNA SOUTH KOREA OUT

Also released were images of the missile’s launch:

http://epa04739478%20An%20image%20released%20by%20North%20Korea's%20Rodong%20Shinmun%20shows%20what%20Pyeongyang%20claims%20to%20be%20a%20ballistic%20missile%20being%20launched%20from%20a%20submarine%20in%20waters%20near%20the%20northeast%20coast%20of%20Sinpo%20on%2009%20May%202015.%20The%20Korean%20Central%20News%20Agency%20(KCNA),%20the%20North's%20state%20media,%20said%20the%20communist%20state%20successfully%20test-fired%20the%20submarine%20missile.%20%20EPA/RODONG%20SINMUN%20SOUTH%20KOREA%20OUT%20%20BEST%20QUALITY%20AVAILABLE

An image released by North Korea’s Rodong Shinmun shows what Pyeongyang claims to be a ballistic missile being launched from a submarine in waters near the northeast coast of Sinpo on 09 May 2015. The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), the North’s state media, said the communist state successfully test-fired the submarine missile. EPA/RODONG SINMUN SOUTH KOREA

http://epa04739479%20An%20image%20obtained%20by%20Yonhap%20News%20Agency%20show%20a%20ballistic%20missile%20believed%20to%20have%20been%20launched%20from%20underwater%20near%20Sinpo,%20on%20the%20northeast%20coast%20of%20North%20Korean,%2009%20May%202015.%20The%20KCNA,%20the%20North's%20state%20media,%20said%20North%20Korean%20leader%20Kim%20Jong-un%20watched%20the%20test-fire.%20%20EPA/KCNA%20SOUTH%20KOREA%20OUT%20%20BEST%20QUALITY%20AVAILABLE

An image obtained by Yonhap News Agency show a ballistic missile believed to have been launched from underwater near Sinpo, on the northeast coast of North Korean, 09 May 2015. The KCNA, the North’s state media, said North Korean leader Kim Jong-un watched the test-fire. EPA/KCNA SOUTH KOREA OUT

Elias Groll is a staff writer at Foreign Policy covering cyberspace, its conflicts, and controversies. @eliasgroll

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