SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea has warned that if the US and South Korea do not stop their aggressive military pressure campaign on the North, including joint military drills, they will face “unprecedented” security threats.
North Korea sees any regular US-South Korean military exercises as an invasion rehearsal, despite the allies’ insistence that they have no intention of attacking the North. Following the North’s provocative string of missile tests this year, Washington and Seoul are expanding their scheduled summertime training.
“If the US and its allies choose to engage us in armed conflict, they will experience unparalleled security instability,” Choe Jin, deputy director general of the Institute of Disarmament and Peace, a Foreign Ministry-run think tank, told Associated Press Television News in Pyongyang on Thursday.
Choe claims that this year’s joint military exercises between Washington and Seoul are pushing the Korean Peninsula to the verge of war. He accused US and South Korean officials of conspiring to discuss the deployment of US nuclear strategic assets at a forthcoming joint drill.
“When the US threatens us with nuclear weapons, it should keep in mind that it will be dealt on an equal footing,” Choe stated. He warned that Washington must cease its “anachronistic and destructive strategy of hostility” against North Korea or face “unwanted consequences.”
Regular US-South Korean military drills are a major cause of resentment on the Korean Peninsula, with North Korea frequently responding with missile testing or bellicose rhetoric.
Following their May summit, US President Joe Biden and new South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol stated that they would consider expanding cooperative military exercises to prevent North Korean nuclear threats. Biden also reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to extended deterrence to South Korea, referring to a full range of US defense capabilities, including nuclear ones.
Their announcement signaled a shift in strategy from their predecessors. Former US President Donald Trump grumbled about the cost of US-South Korean military drills, while former South Korean President Moon Jae-in was chastised for allowing North Korea to hone its nuclear technology through his dovish engagement strategy. Yoon accused Moon of favoring North Korea above the United States.
The US and South Korean forces have yet to make an official announcement regarding their summer training, including when they will begin. South Korean defense authorities, however, stated that the drills would include field training for the first time since 2018, in addition to the previous computer-simulated tabletop exercises.
Due to worries about COVID-19 and to support the now-stalled US-led dialogue aimed at convincing North Korea to give up its nuclear program in exchange for economic and political benefits, the South Korean and US forces have canceled or reduced some of their routine drills in recent years.
The US has urged North Korea to resume dormant diplomacy without preconditions, but North Korea has responded that it will not return to negotiations unless the US first ceases its hostile policies towards it, an apparent reference to military drills with South Korea and economic sanctions.
North Korea has tested a spate of ballistic missiles this year, including nuclear-capable missiles aimed to hit both the US mainland and South Korea, in contravention of UN resolutions prohibiting such testing. According to observers, North Korea wants to be acknowledged as a nuclear power and to have sanctions lifted.
Choe reiterated North Korea’s earlier stance that its missile tests are legitimate exercises of the country’s sovereign right to defend itself. He referred to recent missile launches by the United States and South Korea as “double standards.”
North Korea has failed to execute its widely anticipated nuclear test, which would be the first in five years. Officials in Seoul believe the lack of a bomb test is due to a continued COVID-19 epidemic and objections from China, North Korea’s most significant ally and largest aid provider.
Yoon told reporters on Friday that North Korea is still prepared to conduct a nuclear test and that South Korea is likewise prepared to deal with it.