Update at 14:00 KST: This article has been updated to include further comments from an analyst.
North Korea on Tuesday broadcast a documentary showcasing its 2017 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) developments, airing the film as disarmament talks with Washington ground to halt and shortly after a new missile launch on October 2.
The documentary comes ahead of the DPRK’s Party Foundation Day on Thursday and highlighted the North’s various ICBM launches in 2017 before Pyongyang declared a moratorium on testing.
The section on missiles touted North Korea’s defense industry, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s guidance and said the tests showed North Korea’s “invincible national power that smashed the hostile powers’ evil challenges.”
Pyongyang showcased 2017’s March 18 “high-thrust engine test”, the first and second Hwasong 14 ICBM tests launched on July 4 and July 28, and the November 29 Hwasong 15 launch, among other developments.
The documentary comes after Pyongyang lashed out at South Korea on Monday for its decision to purchase U.S. made weapons, calling South Korean President Moon Jae-in “servile” and railing against the “disgraceful act.”
North Korea has also made little progress with Washington, with long-planned working-level talks in Sweden at the end of last week seemingly making little headway.
Following the talks, North Korean negotiator Kim Myong Gil said Washington had not provided any new solutions and that Pyongyang was now “discouraged” from further negotiations.
One expert told NK News that Tuesday’s documentary could be a worrying indicator of how North Korea’s future plans.
“It’s an ominous sign of where things might go,” Ankit Panda, an adjunct senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists and NK Pro contributor said.
“They know experts watch these sources carefully for signs of their intentions and use it as a signaling vehicle. ICBMs continue to have an important role in internal propaganda too, of course.”
At around four minutes, the section on missiles is also only a short part of a much longer film, which covers a wide range of subjects from the North’s new trams to the country’s steel mills, indicating that it is also intended for internal consumption.
“I would urge a little caution in overstating the importance. This was a 5-minute part of an almost 2-hour long documentary broadcast on KCTV this evening,” Martyn Williams, editor of the North Korea Tech blog, told NK News.
“Interesting to note that the documentary was not originally scheduled to be broadcast, but it covered so much ground that I don’t think really we can say it represents new missile propaganda.”
Another expert said that the airing of the documentary was “notable” and in line with a recent state media focus on national defense issues.
“It is notable that KCTV addressed key arms build-up achievements in 2017, as North Korean media has largely refrained from explicitly mentioning them after the North’s shift to an economy-focused policy in April 2018,” Minyoung Lee, a senior analyst with NK News‘s sister site NK Pro, said.
“This KCTV segment appears to track with recent media rhetoric playing up Kim Jong Un’s achievements in the defense industry sector, the importance of strengthening defense capabilities, and last week’s launch of the Pukguksong-3,” she said.
“It also seems to suggest that the North will maintain its line of giving priority to domestic resilience while remaining vigilant against outside powers, a trend we have seen in state media since late May,” she added.
“Notably, this segment showed photos, rather than video, of the weapons launches, a move that almost certainly was aimed at moderating the tone while still conveying the main message.”
North Korea has spent recent months away from the negotiation table testing missiles, with the most recent coming at the start of October when the DPRK showcased a “new type” of submarine-launched ballistic missile.
Pyongyang said the newly developed Pukguksong-3 SLBM dealt a “powerful blow to hostile forces,” and touted the significance of the successful launch.
“At this critical juncture, the majestic explosive sound of our ‘Pukguksong-3,’ [the success of which] is the victory of the century for our great Workers’ Party of Korea and the Korean people, is another powerful blow to hostile forces,” the country’s state run Rodong Sinmun said.
“Our Pukguksong is a mighty statement from the great Korean people to the entire world, not simply the ostentation of a strategic weapon.”
Featured image: KCTV