Civil defense forces carrying rifles and personnel wearing gas masks and red hazmat suits paraded North Korea’s capital overnight in a celebration of the nation’s 73rd anniversary that was a marked departure from past militaristic displays. The parade—overseen by leader Kim Jong Un, wearing a cream suit and visibly slimmer than he was at the start of the year—centered around paramilitary organizations and public security forces protecting Pyongyang instead of the major military units that handle the most important weapons of Kim’s nuclear and missile arsenal, the AP reports. The marchers also included workers from the Ministry of Public Health involved in the country’s anti-coronavirus campaign.
While the North rolled out its most provocative strategic weapons threatening Asian rivals and the US during parades in January and last October, there was no immediate indication the latest parade showcased ballistic weapons. Thursday's state media reports on the event that began late Wednesday indicated its message was aimed at a domestic audience instead of displaying the country’s growing military might to the United States. Experts say the toned-down event reflected the harsh challenges facing North Korea as its broken, mismanaged economy is further strained by US-led sanctions, prolonged border closures because of the pandemic, and flooding that caused food shortages in recent years.
"The parade shows that the government felt a need to build unity domestically—the population is clearly suffering amid the pandemic and social complaints are likely building up,” says Hong Min, an analyst at South Korea’s Institute for National Unification. He says it was highly unusual that the North would showcase its civil defense units in parade. Hong says it would be burdensome for the North to flaunt provocative weapons and create diplomatic frictions when it will have to rely on the outside world for COVID vaccines. (Read more North Korea stories.)