To mark the 75th anniversary of the ruling Workers’ Party, North Korea is broadly expected to stage a mass military parade showcasing its latest and most advanced weaponry, news agency AFP reported on Thursday. Satellite imagery of the nuclear-armed country suggests that the show, expected to take place in Pyongyang, is going to be huge.
“It’s very clear they are preparing for a big one,” Vincent Brooks, former commander of US Forces Korea (USFK), told an Atlantic Council conference, according to AFP. The parade is happening in a time when North Korea has been locked down for eight months due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Kim Jong Un, the ruler of the country, is expected to be present while several goose-stepping soldiers march in the parade through Kim Il Sung Square.
According to AFP, a parade of progressively larger armoured vehicles and tanks will follow, culminating with whatever missiles Pyongyang wants to put on show.
That will depend on the message it wants to send.
As tensions mounted in April 2017 giant canisters big enough to hold intercontinental ballistic missiles — which North Korea had yet to test at the time — rumbled through the square, sending shockwaves through the analyst community.
At the end of December, Kim threatened to demonstrate a “new strategic weapon”. Analysts anticipate a new submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) or an ICBM capable of striking the US mainland to be put on show — maybe even one with multiple re-entry vehicle capabilities — but say North Korea will tread carefully to avoid jeopardising its chances with Washington.
And despite speculation of a potential “October Surprise” ahead of the US election on November 3, they say an actual missile launch is unlikely.
“Showing it in the parade rather than testing it would be a nonprovocative way of showcasing it,” said Jenny Town, a fellow at the Stimson Center.
Saturday’s anniversary comes during a difficult year for North Korea as the coronavirus pandemic and recent storms add pressure to the heavily sanctioned country.
The impoverished nation — whose crumbling health system would struggle to cope with a major virus outbreak — has not confirmed a single case of the disease that has swept the world since first emerging in China, North Korea’s key ally.
The parade will aim to send the domestic audience a message that “despite the economic hardships they face, they are a militarily strong nation”, Town said.
But Harry Kazianis of the Center for National Interest warned that with thousands of people involved it could turn into a “deadly superspreader-like event” if the coronavirus was present in Pyongyang unless “extreme precautions” were used.
And such protective measures seemed “pretty unlikely”, he added. “Clearly masks and missiles don’t mix.”