Images released by the country’s state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) showed thousands of people and soldiers at a nighttime military parade in Pyongyang, the capital, including leader Kim Jong Un.
The headliner, however, was the new submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) — which KCNA declared was the “world’s most powerful weapon.” Pyongyang also showed off an apparent new short-range ballistic missile which, like its submarine counterpart, likely runs on solid fuel. Solid-fueled missiles can be fired on shorter notice than liquid-fueled counterparts.
Analysts said Kim’s plans — and the missiles put on display — are worrying signs for the future of any possible disarmament talks between Pyongyang and the incoming administration of US President-elect Joe Biden.
“No matter who is in power in the US, the true nature and the true spirit of the anti-North Korea policy will never change,” Kim said Saturday. “The development of nuclear weapons will be pushed forward without interruption.”
Thursday’s parade was held to celebrate the conclusion of the Eighth Workers’ Party Congress — a meeting for North Korea’s elite to gather and reflect on successes and failures in years past and set an agenda for the near future. They are typically held every five years or so, but Kim’s father and predecessor — Kim Jong Il — stopped holding them after 1980. Kim Jong Un revived the congresses in 2016.
“Kim continues to show the world that despite North Korea’s economic difficulties over the last year, the focus on sustaining nuclear forces and modernizing conventional weaponry has not shifted,” said Ankit Panda, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and an expert in North Korea’s nuclear program.
Panda said the SLBM displayed was “evidence of North Korea’s growing sophistication with large solid propellant-based ballistic missiles,” but noted it’s also important to consider why Kim may have wanted to show them to his own people.
“These parades aren’t just for the outside world, of course,” said Panda, author of “Kim Jong Un and the Bomb: Survival and Deterrence in North Korea.”
“Even as Kim openly acknowledges economic difficulties, he can shore up his leadership by showing the people of Pyongyang — North Korea’s elite — that he’s been able to deliver on military modernization.”
However, some analysts were encouraged by the fact that North Korea did not show off its intercontinental ballistic missiles, which are designed to send a nuclear weapon across the planet — potentially to the United States.
North Korea claims to not have recorded a single case of Covid-19, so holding a major event without masks may be a way to reinforce that narrative. But almost no one believes the country as been spared from a pandemic that has infected more than 93 million people and killed nearly 2 million.
CNN’s Jake Kwon contributed to this report.