North Korea rolled out what appeared to be a new ballistic missile, Sunday, as the impoverished state marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of its founder Kim Il-sung with a massive military parade. The unveiling came after the North’s young and untested leader Kim Jong-un vowed to proceed with his late father Kim Jong-il’s “military-first” policy in his first public speech.
A South Korean military official said the missile is presumed to have a range of up to 6,000 kilometers and capable of hitting Alaska, and that Seoul and U.S. intelligence authorities were looking into whether it had been deployed. Reports said the missile appeared to have several stages and was bigger than its mid-range Musudan missile unveiled in October 2010.
The speech by Kim and the showcasing of the missile were seen as efforts to mark the North’s self-proclaimed arrival as a “strong and prosperous” state on the landmark 100th anniversary of the birth of the late Kim Il-sung, the founder of the country and Jong-un’s grandfather, despite a failed satellite launch two days earlier.
"Let's move on toward to our final victory!" Kim Jong-un said, addressing tens of thousands of people and members of the North’s armed forces gathered at Kim Il-sung Square. The young Kim is believed to be in his late 20s or early 30s, and was hastily groomed to lead the Stalinist country after his father died of heart failure.
Regarding unification of the peninsula, he said: “I also offer my greetings to compatriots in South Korea and overseas who dedicate themselves to reunification and prosperity of the nation.” Experts say that this is nothing out of the ordinary, adding he was perhaps trying to speak to those who may have a sympathetic view of Pyongyang.
In total, some 880 weapons and military hardware were paraded through the square as Kim looked on.
"I offer the purest respect and all the glory to the greatest founder Kim Il-sung and ever-victorious comrade Kim Jong-il,” he said of his grandfather and father from a podium above the square.
Kim, whose leadership was bolstered with additional titles during meetings of the North’s ruling party and parliament this week, said his regime would strengthen his father’s militarist policy as its “first, second and third” priorities.
Friday’s failed launch was seen as an attempt by Pyongyang to punctuate its arrival as a powerful state. But the multi-stage rocket broke into several pieces shortly after liftoff in what many described as a major embarrassment. The launch drew international ire as it violated U.N. Security Council resolutions and was seen as an attempt to advance the North’s long range ballistic missile program.
Video of the speech showed Kim reading from a prepared text while gripping the podium with both hands and looking up only at the ends of sentences, when those gathered would applause. His voice remained solemn and monotone through most of the speech.
While he shifted on his feet throughout and squinted apparently in reaction to the sunlight, later he was seen more at ease, chatting with senior officials during the parade.
Kim was named the “Great Successor” following his father’s death. Despite doubts internationally due to his inexperience, the regime has been working to consolidate his power and erect a personality cult around him.
“The speech showed him as the leader -- whether in reality he is a nominal leader or a practical leader,” Choi Jin-wook, an analyst for the Korea Institute of National Unification, said. “Emphasizing Kim Jong-il’s work and the military-first policy is very important for the regime and system as a whole.”
Kim Jong-il posthumously became “Eternal General Secretary” of the workers party last week, as part of the enormous personality cult the regime has built around the Kim family to maintain control over its people.
The parade was the culmination of week’s events, for which the North has been preparing for months, according to recent visitors. Goose-stepping soldiers marched by Kim and huge balloons floated above the square calling on the country to unite. Other projects for the founder’s centennial include new high-rise apartment units in the Mansudae area of the capital and the opening of a hydroelectric plant long-touted as a symbol of modernity.