North Korea ready for biggest military parade in years

Pyongyang military parade marks 70th anniversary of foundation of North Korea
Pyongyang’s military parade in 2018

North Korea is preparing for what is expected to be the largest military parade in its history. Thousands of soldiers have practised for months to ensure that each step is marched with precision and each fervent cry of adoration will be heard by the Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un.

These events are often ostentatious formal displays of military might to show a devoted people paying homage to their leader in closely directed goose-stepping drills. Mistakes are not tolerated, but these parades can also be part provocation, a chance to show off new missiles and weaponry despite being under strict economic sanctions.

The state has not featured any ballistic missiles in its parades since Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un held their first summit in 2018, talks between the two sides broke down in Hanoi last February without a deal and North Korea has continued to test a number of new short range ballistic missiles. This event, on 10 October, to mark the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Workers’ Party comes just weeks before the US presidential election, it’s certainly going to be big, according to the editor-in-chief of the Daily NK, a Seoul-based website with paid sources in the North.

Lee Sang Yong said that, as early as March, Pyongyang had ordered it’s military to mobilize 32,000 soldiers, it’s become so large that the site where soldiers practise has had to be expanded.

Korean People's Army (KPA) soldiers salute as they watch a mass rally on Kim Il Sung square in Pyongyang on September 9, 2018
Korean People’s Army soldiers watching a mass rally in 2018

The Pyongyang Mirim airport now has two new roads and 10 new buildings, therefore, it is likely that we will see Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles [ICBMs] or Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles [SLBMs] on display at the parade this time, he said, also, 600 students and researchers from Kim Il-sung University will also take part, this is not an insignificant number, this university is where they develop new talent for missile development, by bringing them to the parade or putting them on display, North Korea may be trying to install pride and respect for the missile development talents.

Jeongmin Kim, an analyst with NK News, said North Korea does not always use these events to prove a point to the outside world.

We have to remember that many times for a hereditary dictatorship especially if they constantly have to prove legitimacy to rule to their domestic audience, so October 10 will also aim to do exactly that, trying to show its people, with dazzling parades with uplifting propaganda slogans, that they are ‘doing okay’, despite all of what has been going on this year, of course, precedents do point to the possibility of Kim Jong-un or other high-level officials making a speech that may involve some message aimed at the outside world, such as how they are not waiting around for sanctions relief any more and will focus on ‘self-reliance’.

While some will be watching for any new missiles on display, there is growing concern about the welfare of the 25 million North Korean people, 2020 has been a bad year for most countries, but for North Korea it has the potential to be devastating, I hear there is a surge in the number of orphans and homeless street kids in the North this year, said Lee Sang Yong. Even though we cannot even imagine it here in South Korea there are people in the North who are dying and starving, the state closed its borders to the outside world in January to prevent an outbreak of Covid 19 spreading from neighbouring China.

Authorities have reportedly issued “shoot-to-kill” orders along the border and created a buffer zone to stop anyone entering the country.

Diplomatic sources said earlier this year that stockpiles of PPE and other essential medical supplies, including vaccines, had built up at the border with China, unable to get through. North Korea claims to have had no cases of Covid-19, but Kim Jong-un continues to hold high-level meetings to ensure tight restrictions remain in place.

The North Korean people are now cut off from the outside world more than ever before. Even movement between provinces has been limited, land, sea, and air, it’s a complete shutdown of both people and material, said Mr Lee. Unless you are military personnel or a high-ranking officer, no one is moving inside of North Korea.

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