When Kim Jong-un, the young portly leader in his trademark Mao suit, sauntered onto the reviewing stand, a sea of spectators roared with cheers and waved flags and paper flowers as they filled a square named after his grandfather, the North Korean founder Kim Il-sung. As fighter jets screamed overhead and helicopters carried large streamers bearing his name, Mr. Kim clapped his hands and chatted with Li Yuanchao, the visiting vice president of China, North Korea’s wartime ally.
The North Korean military has traditionally used massive parades to swear its loyalty to the Kim family. But the spectacle was also closely monitored by regional analysts and policy-makers for displays of weapons.
On Saturday, mobile launchers rumbled before Mr. Kim and a crowd of foreign visitors and international journalists, carrying the KN-08, widely believed to have been designed as the North’s first intercontinental ballistic missile. Some analysts suspect that the KN-08, first unveiled during a military parade in Pyongyang in April last year, was still in a developmental stage and the missiles displayed might be mock-ups.
The Saturday parade also featured truckloads of baleful-looking soldiers hugging packs with radioactive warning symbols. With such a display, North Korea appeared to suggest that it may have created suitcase nukes or radioactive “dirty bombs,” said Shin In-kyun, a military expert who runs Korea Defense Network, a civic group specializing in military affairs.
“North Korea is exaggerating and showing off its nuclear and missile threats,” said Mr. Shin.
North Korea staged its last military parade in Pyongyang in April this year during the height of military tensions triggered by its Feb. 12 nuclear test and ensuing United Nations sanctions. At the time, North Korean generals warned that their forces were ready to launch intercontinental ballistic missiles, as well as kamikaze-like nuclear attacks, at the United States. They said that North Korean pilots would “load nuclear bombs, instead of fuel for return, and storm enemy strongholds.”
U.S. intelligence agencies remain divided over how close North Korea has come to achieving an ability to launch ICBM’s or build nuclear warheads small enough to be mounted on such missiles. Some analysts said that North Korea’s nuclear bluster was aimed as much at consolidating the domestic populace behind Mr. Kim’s new leadership as at increasing the North’s leverage in dealing with Washington and its allies.
Still, fears of North Korea’s missile and nuclear capabilities have increased since it successfully launched a three-stage rocket in December and claimed to have “smaller, lighter and diversified nuclear strike means” following the nuclear test in February, its third so far.
Also on display on Saturday were Musudan mobile missiles, believed to have a range of up to 2,500 miles, enough to reach the U.S territory of Guam in the Pacific Ocean.
North Korea has never flight-tested the Musudan. Still, when North Korea showed signs that it might launch a couple of them this spring, Washington announced plans to speed up the deployment of an advanced antimissile system to the Pacific island of Guam to protect its military bases from the North Korean missiles.
The North never lunched them, and it has since de-escalated considerably, making overtures toward Washington and Seoul.
In a speech delivered on Saturday, Vice Marshal Choe Ryong-hae, director of the General Political Department of the North Korean People’s Army, called for a strong military to support the country’s “urgent task of building the economy and improving the living standards of the people.” But he did not repeat earlier threats of nuclear strikes at its enemies. Mr. Kim did not deliver a speech.
North Korea has celebrated the armistice anniversary as “Victory Day,” though the three-year war triggered by its invasion of South Korea ended in a stalemate and truce in 1953. In the past week, the North mobilized mass rallies and put on fireworks shows as part of the festivities.
In South Korea, the anniversary was marked by music concerts, exhibitions, memorial services at national cemeteries.
In a speech on Saturday, President Park Geun-hye reminded South Koreans that the war remained “temporarily halted in the world’s longest-lasting truce,” and warned that her government would never tolerate North Korean provocations.
“I urge North Korea to give up the development of nuclear weapons and start on a path toward true change and progress,” she said. “If North Korea makes the right choice, we will expand exchanges and cooperation.”