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View more articles by Colin Zwirko
Colin Zwirko is an NK News correspondent based in Seoul.
Earlier this year, NK News’s sister site NK Pro revealed exclusive new details of the little-known university in North Korea named after current leader Kim Jong Un.
Now, new details have emerged which support existing reports of the school’s prominent role in the DPRK’s missile and defense sciences programs.
A graduation badge for the Kim Jong Un National Defense University (KJUNDU, 김정은국방종합대학) was revealed for the first time in an image of a couple on their wedding day in Pyongyang, posted to Twitter by a recent visitor to the country.
The badge, in a diamond shape resembling those typically received upon graduating from prestigious universities in the country, prominently features the name “Kim Jong Un National Defense University.”
The emblem above the school’s name — likely the main official KJUNDU emblem given that Kim Il Sung University’s sigil is placed in the same location on its badge — is an image of a rocket on top of atomic rings.
Both rockets and atomic imagery — symbolizing the country’s priorities on the military as well as science and technology — are still common throughout North Korea.
While it is possible that the combination of the two implies nuclear weapons development is a focus of the school, atomic rings have not typically been found in propaganda glorifying the country’s nuclear program in the past.
The more obvious indication is that the Kim Jong Un National Defense University focuses on the combination of weapons development and science and technology, as it was known to do before the current leader’s name was attached to the school.
NK Pro analysis of images featured in DPRK state media in recent years found strong evidence that the National Defense University (NDU), whose location is known to be just north of Pyongyang, had been renamed after the current leader.
A booth for a school bearing the KJUNDU name spotted at a Pyongyang tech fair in 2017 was seen promoting a company named the “6.13 Information Technology Company” — a likely reference to Kim’s only publicized visit to the NDU, announced in state media on June 13, 2016.
The change has been shown to be a sensitive subject for North Korea’s censors, however, as the KJUNDU name on the booth was blurred in other photos of the event, and it has not otherwise been mentioned in state media.
Defectors have said the NDU was in the past involved in leading the country’s intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) program, and its location north of Pyongyang lies in close proximity to a well-known missile research complex at Sanum-dong (also known to analysts as the Academy of Defense Science or the Second Natural Science Academy).
But Kim Jong Un also appeared to suggest the NDU was involved in nuclear research when he visited the campus in 2016.
He was quoted as saying in the Rodong Sinmun report of the visit that his mission with the school was to “further consolidate and shine the status of the East’s nuclear power and the centrality of Songun Choson’s great military power.”
It added he would “frequently receive reports on the problems … and personally settle them,” and that he “promised to turn the university into the most prestigious one in the country and an iconic university training hardcore personnel and talents … [in] national defence science.”
Kim was also quoted as saying the school “solved necessary scientific and technological problems to realize the modernization of military equipment” of the country’s armed forces.
The DPRK has not been shy about its missile development this year, either, testing a string of new weapons as it touts the new technologies under development.
The field of “national defense science,” the Academy of Defense Science, and its scientists have also been front and center in the new campaign this year, conducted in the absence of overt references to what it had called its proud nuclear program prior to restarting talks with South Korea and the U.S. in early 2018.
In August, over 100 national defense scientists were promoted by Kim Jong Un, state media reported, for having “solved high-level and difficult technical issues of the ultra-modern national defense science.”
The Academy of Defense Science was also credited with having overseen the most recent missile test earlier this month, though NK News found evidence suggesting Kim Jong Un may also have been in attendance.
Meanwhile, another new school campus located next to Kim Il Sung University in Pyongyang — likely a new prestigious university or institute — has still yet to be revealed in state media.
This complex may be yet another institution under the banner of science and technology given that its architectural layout, too, resembles the shape of atomic rings.
Edited by James Fretwell and Oliver Hotham
Featured image: Rodong Sinmun