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N. Korea Holds Military Parade, Test-fires Long-range Cruise Missiles

2021-09-16

ⓒ YONHAP News

North Korea held a military parade on September 9 to celebrate the 73rd anniversary of the country’s founding. It was shorter than the previous military parades in October last year and January this year, indicating that the size of the latest event was scaled down. Here is Hong Min, researcher from the North Korean Research Division at the Korea Institute for National Unification, to give more details about North Korea’s recent military parade, which is considered rather unusual in many ways. 


North Korea has held a military parade many times under Kim Jong-un’s rule. The large-scale events typically involved the Korean People’s Army, the country’s regular armed forces. But the recent parade was led by reserve forces known as the Worker-Peasant Red Guards as well as public security forces—something between the military and the police. The parade did not show major strategic weapons of the regular troops but featured weapons and equipment used by the paramilitary groups. Soldiers donning gas masks, as well as tractors, fire trucks and military search dogs also appeared at the parade. The Korean People’s Army and the Worker-Peasant Red Guards have participated in military parades together before. But it is probably the first time that the reserve forces led a military parade, which is considered a new type of militaristic display. 


North Korea defined the recent event as the “military parade of civilian and security armed forces.” Video footage unveiled by the North’s Korean Central TV shows that leader Kim Jong-un showed up at 12 a.m. on September 9 to attend the event but he did not deliver a speech. The North did not announce any message toward the outside world, either. 


The word “civilian” implies that North Korea organized the military parade for civilians, unlike previous parades that generally focused on demonstrating the military’s splendor and achievements to the people. North Korean residents have suffered from the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic for nearly two years. The country was also hit hard by natural disasters in the process. It seems North Korea used the military parade to comfort the people who have endured hardships. It is strange for North Korea to hold a massive military parade on the 73rd anniversary of the country’s foundation, considering that it typically stage such an event on every fifth or tenth anniversary. It appears that the uncommon, civilian-focused event had the purpose of consoling the people and strengthening internal unity. 


Four days after the military parade, North Korea announced on Monday that it successfully test-fired a new type of long-range cruise missiles over the weekend. It said that the new missiles flew for about two hours along oval and pattern-eight flight orbits before hitting their intended targets 1,500 kilometers away. North Korea test launched short-range cruise missiles in January and March this year. The long-range cruise missiles the North fired recently, with a range of 1,500 kilometers, can strike all of Japan as well as South Korea. A cruise missile flies at a slower speed and is less destructive than a ballistic missile, but it is capable of a precision strike. 


Cruise missiles have emerged as a hot weapon in Northeast Asia. In 2018, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that his country would actively develop submarine-launched cruise missiles or SLCMs and deploy them in Northeast Asia. A considerable part of the plan has actually been implemented. An SLCM could possibly carry a nuclear warhead and a nuclear-tipped SLCM can accurately strike targets to produce a devastating result. It is difficult to detect and respond to the missile launched from a submarine. 


North Korea’s recent test-fire of cruise missiles suggests that it may possibly develop SLCMs, which could pose challenges for the combined missile defense posture of South Korea and the U.S. It’s necessary to keep watching how North Korea’s long-range cruise missiles may evolve. 


According to North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency, the new, long-range cruise missile is a strategic weapon of great significance in meeting the key target of the five-year plan for the development of defense science and the weapon system. Analysts are paying attention to North Korea’s five-year defense plan. 


North Korea says that it has been developing long-range cruise missiles for the past two years as part of the five-year plan for defense development. That means the North started developing the cruise missiles since mid-2019, right after the North Korea-U.S. summit in Hanoi broke down. As the negotiations with Washington did not proceed smoothly, Pyongyang apparently embarked on the five-year defense plan in a bid to raise its strategic value and bargaining power. The recent test-launch of the long-range cruise missiles shows that North Korea has been accelerating the development of such weapons. 


Attention is also drawn to the timing of the missile test, which came just a day before chief nuclear envoys from South Korea, the U.S. and Japan got together in Tokyo. China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi also visited South Korea early this week. It seems North Korea decided on the timing of the test in consideration of diplomatic events in the region. But researcher Hong says that it is necessary to analyze the timing from a broader perspective. 


South Korea has recently test-fired a homegrown submarine-launched ballistic missile, or SLBM, successfully to become the world’s seventh country to do so. The weapon could be deployed for actual combat use before long. We need to note that North Korea’s long-range cruise missile test came on the heels of the report about South Korea’s SLBM development. In fact, North Korea has been developing an SLBM since 2014, but it seems South Korea has successfully developed it first. As you know, an SLBM is a powerful weapon with high strategic value. Tipped with a nuclear warhead, it can be a formidable nuclear weapon. Intimidated by South Korea’s SLBM development, the North may have wanted to show off its own weapon capable of retaliating against any provocative move from the South. I think North Korea tested the cruise missiles to respond to South Korea’s weapons development. 


The test-firing of cruise missiles, unlike ballistic missiles, are not a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions. For that reason, some are raising the need to ban North Korea from developing cruise missiles as well. 


It is highly likely that North Korea will continue to test or unveil strategic weapons in order to raise its strategic value and gain the upper hand at future negotiations with the U.S. The North is telling the U.S. that it will advance its strategic weapons even further if the U.S. keeps delaying the negotiations. In a move to pressure the U.S., North Korea is likely to continue with military action or weapons development. 


North Korea launched two ballistic missiles into the East Sea on Wednesday, two days after it announced the test-firing of long-range cruise missiles. It is the country’s fifth missile launch this year. With attention turning to how the international community will respond to North Korea’s continuing provocations, military tension is feared to escalate further on the Korean Peninsula for some time.

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