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N. Korea Holds Parade, But Doesn’t Appear to Show Off New Missiles

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Paramilitary parade held to mark the founding anniversary of the republic at Kim Il Sung square in Pyongyang, Sep. 9, 2021.

North Korea held a nighttime military parade early Thursday, state media announced, but does not appear to have shown off any ballistic missiles or other advanced weaponry.

The North held the parade after midnight to mark the 73rd anniversary of the country’s national founding, according to the state-run Korean Central News Agency.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attended the parade, sporting a tan, Western-style suit and a slimmed-down physique.

The 37-year-old leader, whose health has been the subject of constant speculation in Western media, has lost a significant amount of weight in recent months.

State media did not say whether Kim delivered any remarks at the event. It also did not mention whether any ballistic missiles were unveiled at the parade.

Instead, the parade featured small artillery, fire trucks, and rows of individuals wearing what were described as domestically produced orange hazmat suits, complete with hoods and gas masks, according to still images shown by state media.

It is the third North Korean military parade in about a year and the first since U.S. President Joe Biden took office. Some analysts see the move as a possible way to pressure the U.S. amid stalled nuclear talks, though it is thought to be less provocative than a major weapons test.

Paramilitary parade held to mark the founding anniversary of the republic at Kim Il Sung square in Pyongyang, Sep. 9, 2021.
Paramilitary parade held to mark the founding anniversary of the republic at Kim Il Sung square in Pyongyang, Sep. 9, 2021.

North Korea has rejected the Biden administration’s repeated offers to resume talks and has recently threatened a return to tensions, after Washington and Seoul held annual joint military drills.

North Korean state television has not broadcast footage of the parade. Analysts rely on such footage to assess such parades, since no international media or foreigners are typically allowed to attend.

In the past, North Korean state television has delayed such reports for up to a day, before airing carefully produced parade footage.

The North’s last military parade was in January, when it unveiled a new submarine-launched ballistic missile. At an October parade, it rolled out its largest intercontinental ballistic missile, which appears designed to overwhelm U.S. missile defenses.

All three parades were held at night, providing more dramatic shots of missiles, other weapons, and rows of goose-stepping soldiers.

North Korea often holds parades on major political anniversaries, both to demonstrate its latest military developments and to bolster domestic solidarity.

“We shouldn’t overinterpret foreign policy or negotiating signals from a parade that’s primarily aimed at domestic political audiences,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.

“North Korean society is under tremendous stress because of decisions made by the Kim regime. So, the parade is intended to show strength and serve as a quarantine morale booster,” he said.

Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, North Korea has enacted one of the world’s strictest lockdowns, nearly completely closing its borders, cutting off trade, and restricting domestic travel. It says it has detected no coronavirus cases, though few analysts believe that.

The lockdown has come with a major economic cost. Kim has repeatedly warned of food shortages, at one point even seeming to compare the situation to North Korea’s devastating 1990s famine.

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