North Korea Holds Military Parade, Testing US and Allies
North Korea staged its first military parade in seven months, with leader Kim Jong Un pledging to strengthen his state’s atomic arsenal as he presided over an event showcasing nuclear-capable weapons that threaten the US and its allies.
North Korea has yet to release any video of the event, which will likely come out on state television in the next few hours and be closely watched by outside experts to see the latest developments in its weapons arsenal. Its last military parade took place at night in September, and the state’s propaganda apparatus released edited footage at 5 p.m. the following day.
The parade to mark the 90th anniversary of the founding of its army comes as North Korea appears ready to test its first nuclear device since 2017 and has rolled out in recent months new weapons designed to evade U.S.-operated missile shields. Tensions are also set to increase when South Korean President-elect Yoon Suk Yeol takes office on May 10 with pledges to pursue a tough line on Pyongyang.
“In preparation for the turbulent political and military situation and all kinds of crises in the future, we will go forward faster and more steadfastly on the road of self-defense and modern force construction,” Kim said in a speech at the parade, according to KCNA. “We will continue to take measures to strengthen and develop the nuclear force at the highest possible speed.”
U.S. President Joe Biden is expected to visit South Korea and Japan in late May, according to local media reports. Any display of the weapons in Kim’s nuclear arsenal would serve as a reminder of the pressing security problems posed by Pyongyang that have simmered as his administration has been focused on the war in Ukraine.
“Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, especially relevant to North Korea and the new South Korean presidential administration, present opportunities for Kim to demonstrate his country’s military prowess,” said Soo Kim, a policy analyst with the Rand Corp. who previously worked at the Central Intelligence Agency. “That the date marks an important anniversary for the North Korean military helps justify the parade.”
Satellite imagery of training indicated the parade in Kim Il Sung Square may have involved about 20,000 troops and more than 250 pieces of military equipment, including hypersonic missile systems and an intercontinental ballistic missile designed to deliver nuclear warheads to the U.S., Yonhap News Agency reported an unnamed security source as saying.
North Korea’s biggest display of new weaponry under Kim Jong Un came at an October 2020 parade that included what weapons experts said was likely the world’s largest road-worthy ICBM. The parade took place at midnight and video of it was broadcast the following evening.
That missile, known as the Hwasong-17, seems to be designed to carry a multiple nuclear warhead payload to the U.S. and appears to have failed shortly after takeoff in a test in March, weapons experts said. North Korea conducted a successful ICBM test eight days later, with South Korea saying its neighbor fired off a different rocket — a missile that was used in its last ICBM test in 2017. BM