More than 1.4 million young people have enlisted in North Korea’s military in the last few days to defend the country against the U.S. and other enemies, the country’s state media said on Monday.
In what one analyst said was a move to create “an atmosphere of war,” the North Korean government held events across the country to recruit for its military. Students and workers lined up in arenas and a construction site to join or re-enlist, official photos show. On Friday alone, more than 800,000 citizens signed up, the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported.
The service members, referred to as volunteers by state media, demonstrated their will to unify the two Koreas and “mercilessly wipe out the war maniacs” threatening their country, KCNA reported in a thinly veiled swipe at the U.S. and South Korea. The two Koreas have been divided since the end of World War II in 1945, when the capitalist South and communist North were separated along the 38th parallel. An armistice in 1953 ended three years of fighting after the North invaded the South, although no peace treaty was ever signed.
News of mass enlistment in North Korea comes after the country launched its largest and most powerful missile—a Hwasong-17—on Thursday, in response to recent joint military drills between the U.S. and South Korea. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s government has called these exercises rehearsals for an invasion of the North and has fired rockets into the ocean in protest.
Washington and Seoul, however, see the exercises as necessary to combat the North’s military threat. On March 13, the two allies started the “Freedom Shield” operation—11 days of training held on a scale not seen since 2017.
Amid escalating tensions with its stated enemies, Kim is increasingly trying to make his country self-reliant and strengthen its defense capabilities, Cho Han-bum, a senior research fellow at the Korea Institute for National Unification, a think tank, told VICE World News.
“To this end, it’s creating an atmosphere of war internally,” Cho said, referring to how the country enlisted droves of people for the North’s military in a single weekend.
On Monday, North Korean state media also reported it had conducted weekend drills to simulate a nuclear counterattack from the U.S. and South Korea. The drills aimed at sending a “stronger warning to the enemy who expand their war drills for aggression,” KCNA reported.
Thursday’s intercontinental ballistic missile launch occurred just hours before South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol met Japan Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, the first bilateral summit between the countries in 12 years. The countries have long had a fractured relationship, based on historical grievances surrounding Japan’s colonization of the Korean peninsula from 1910 to 1945.
The leaders agreed to resume ties in an effort to confront what they said were growing threats from the North and China, which has also demonstrated increasing military ambitions in the region.