The annual event, which foreign journalists were not allowed to attend this year, was broadcast on North Korean state television. It was shorter than usual, and wasn’t broadcast live, giving the event a lower profile. However it still featured thousands of marchers, spectators and a speech from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Addressing tens of thousands of troops and civilians assembled on the square below him, Kim said the parade marks North Korea’s emergence as a “global military power” despite facing the “worst sanctions.” He called for his military to maintain a high level of combat readiness against the United States and its followers to keep them from infringing upon “the republic’s sacred dignity and autonomy even by 0.001 millimeters.”
What stood out to Shea Cotton, a research associate at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, was the relative lack of missiles. “We didn’t see as many missiles as we were expecting,” he said.
Last year, North Korea revealed five new types of missile at its military parade – surprising analysts and generating headlines worldwide. “Last year they showed off a bunch of new strategic missile systems. And then proceeded to test them one by one.”
This year, the regime only showed missiles that the world had seen before, Cotton said. “It could be because they feel that the systems that they have now are adequate,” he said.
“They’ve accomplished their goals with the ones that they’ve tested last year.”
North Korea’s current missile systems will “do just fine” for attacking the U.S. and might simply require additional testing, he said.
He also noted that many of the missiles were just sitting on flatbed trucks, rather than mounted in mobile missile launch vehicles. “The reason that’s significant is we think they’ve been limited by the number of TELs (missile launch vehicles) that they have.”
“We think they only have six or eight of them, or a small, limited number,” he said. He had been hoping to count the vehicles and was surprised to see only a couple in the parade.
“Maybe that’s on purpose to keep us speculating, or maybe it’s because a couple of their TELs have broken down. It’s really tough to say.”
Cotton warns, however, that it’s hard to know for sure why there weren’t as many missiles. Maybe North Korea doesn’t have much equipment, maybe they wanted to keep it a secret, or maybe Kim simply wanted a shorter event so he wouldn’t have to stand outside for too long in February, he said.
“Sometimes this is kind of like looking at tea leaves. You can kind of see whatever you want to see in some ways. It’s a little tough sometimes.”
North Korea has celebrated the anniversary of the founding of its military in April for decades, though it chose to move it up this year, changing it back to its original February date – which happens to be the day before the Opening Ceremony of the Pyeongchang Winter Games in South Korea.
–With files from the Associated Press