Stratfor's Fourth-Quarter Forecast outlined the slow progress that denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula would take during the last three months of 2018, noting that neither North Korea nor the United States would be motivated to abandon the approach. To maintain any semblance of momentum, maintaining the political framework between the two will be key. By de-emphasizing missiles in its Sept. 9 military parade and making a direct outreach to U.S. President Donald Trump, the North displayed its interest in keeping the channels of communication open.
Amid stalled talks over denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, North Korea has sent another conciliatory signal to Washington. The country celebrated the 70th anniversary of its Day of the Foundation of the Republic on Sept. 9 with military and civilian parades. While the military hardware rolling down the streets of Pyongyang featured a mix of short-range battlefield missiles, tanks, armored vehicles and other weaponry typical of the country's displays of might, it was notable for what it did not include: intercontinental ballistic missiles. The civilian side of the event, meanwhile, placed its emphasis on the North Korean economy, including exhibitions of technology such as civilian drones and a number of participants representing professions including nurses and construction workers.
Kim Yong Nam, head of the North Korean Presidium, delivered a keynote address without mentioning the country's nuclear program, and other event speeches followed suit, a deviation from past years. From the reviewing stands, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un held upraised hands with Chinese presidential envoy Li Zhanshu while earlier television footage featured Kim greeting a Russian delegation. U.S. President Donald Trump posted a message on Twitter calling the absence of advanced missiles in the parade "a big and very positive statement." And, on Sept. 10, the White House announced that a personal letter from the North Korean leader to Trump contained a request for another summit, which the U.S. administration is already coordinating.
Both sides are sending clear political signals that they want dialogue to continue despite allusions by both that, if necessary, they have other options.
Why It Matters
North Korea's invitation for another summit and its decision to refrain from displaying ICBMs and other ballistic missiles is clearly an olive branch to the United States at a time when their diplomatic outreach has become fraught. Given Trump's swift response, this appears to have been clearly understood and reciprocated. Both sides are sending clear political signals that they want dialogue to continue despite allusions by both that, if necessary, they have other options. However, the North Korean and U.S. positions appear not to have budged from their impasse: Pyongyang is still pushing for the United States to move forward on a Korean War peace treaty and allow for a more phased denuclearization process, while Washington first wants to see clear steps taken on denuclearization.
This was a major anniversary of the founding of the Kim-led regime in North Korea and marks a clear deviation from the 65th anniversary edition in 2013 that featured images of ballistic missiles and nuclear detonations. The emphasis on the economy, however, is not out of character. North Korea has long followed an official strategy of parallel development of its economy and a nuclear deterrent, and having declared the first complete, it can now focus on the second. As preparations for this year's event were underway, it appeared as if the ceremony would feature a massive military component including a possible display of missiles as a reminder to the United States of what North Korea has accomplished. However, last week saw Kim extend conciliatory comments to Trump via South Korea that Seoul conveyed in official statements in addition to the letter delivered over the weekend. The anniversary celebration came just two weeks before a fifth inter-Korean summit in Pyongyang that will partly aim to mediate the U.S.-North Korean frictions.