North Korea sends clear message with missile parade on eve of Olympics

Updated 7:48 AM EST, Thu February 8, 2018
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Story highlights

Intelligence analysts expect to see North Korea's new missiles on display

Foreign media has not been invited

CNN —  

North Korea staged a highly anticipated military parade through the capital Pyongyang Thursday, a diplomatic source told CNN, an event that has so far been hidden from the rest of the world.

International media was not invited to cover the parade, which was to feature “hundreds” of rockets and missiles, diplomatic sources said last month.

South Korean news agency Yonhap reported that as many as 50,000 people gathered in Kim Il Sung square to watch the event, which included around 13,000 soldiers.

The parade began at 10:00 a.m. Pyongyang time, a diplomatic source with deep knowledge of North Korea’s activities told CNN. It’s possible that North Korean state television will air video of the event during its afternoon broadcast.

The parade was held around the same time as a welcoming ceremony for hundreds of North Koreans who are in South Korea for the 2018 Winter Olympics.

North Korean athletes applaud during a welcoming ceremony for the country's Olympic team in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Taehoon Lee/CNN
North Korean athletes applaud during a welcoming ceremony for the country's Olympic team in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

For North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the parade is an opportunity to stoke patriotic fervor and to remind the world of his country’s rapid progress on its nuclear program.

For South Korea, it’s a poke in the eye after efforts by President Moon Jae-in to present a united front as the two Koreas compete under the same flag.

“The North Koreans tend to act out like this even during periods of quiet to demonstrate their independence and to try to convince us that their nuclear arsenal is beyond limits,” said Adam Mount, a senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists.

“It’s a clear sign of defiance, and they intend it to be.”

The encore

Pyongyang’s parades offer an unparalleled opportunity for intelligence analysts to get images of military equipment from one of the world’s most reclusive places.

Last year, many in the open-source intelligence community that track North Korea’s weapons program were surprised by the sophisticated missiles on display.

Nonproliferation experts said during Thursday’s parade it’s possible Pyongyang could show some mock-ups of their newer technology, like a new long-range, solid-fueled ballistic missile.

A diplomatic source told CNN the event was expected to include of “hundreds” of missiles and rockets in an attempt “to scare the hell out of the Americans.”

Based on combination of factors, including satellite imagery analysis and insights from diplomatic sources, analysts say it’s possible North Korea will attempt to show the world that it is in the process of mass-producing the technology it showed off last year, like the Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).

“If we were to look at last year, we saw lots of new technology. I think this year it will definitely be an opportunity for North Korea to show off the things it tested last year,” said Melissa Hanham, a senior research associate at the Middlebury Institute for International Studies’ Center for Nonproliferation Studies.

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