SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea said Thursday it was ready to counter U.S. military moves with “the most overwhelming nuclear force,” as it warned that expanding United States joint military exercises with rival South Korea were fueling tensions in “extreme red line.”
Pyongyang’s foreign ministry statement came in response to comments by US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who said on Tuesday in Seoul that the United States would increase the deployment of advanced military assets on the Korean Peninsula, including fighter jets and aircraft carriers, as it bolstered . Joint training and operational planning with South Korea.
South Korea’s security concerns have grown since North Korea launched dozens of missiles in 2022, including potentially nuclear missiles designed to hit targets in South Korea and the US mainland.
In a statement attributed to an unidentified spokesman for its foreign ministry, North Korea said the expansion of allied exercises threatened to turn the Korean peninsula into “a huge war arsenal and a more critical war zone.” The statement said the North is ready to face any short-term or long-term military challenge from the allies with “the most overwhelming nuclear power”.
“The military and political situation on the Korean peninsula and in the region has reached an extreme red line due to the reckless military confrontation maneuvers and hostile acts of the US and its vassal forces,” the spokesman said.
North Korea has for decades described the United States’ joint military exercises with South Korea as rehearsals for a possible invasion, although allies have described the drills as defensive.
South Korea’s defense ministry said the United States flew B-1B bombers and F-22 and F-35 fighter jets in an exercise on Wednesday with South Korean fighter jets over South Korea’s western waters. The United States and South Korea also plan to hold a simulation exercise this month aimed at sharpening their response if North Korea uses nuclear weapons.
North Korea has stepped up its own weapons shows in 2022 as the allies resumed large-scale training. North Korea’s actions included a series of missile and artillery launches it described as simulated nuclear attacks on South Korean and US targets.
“The DPRK will take the harshest response to any US military attempt based on the principle of ‘nuclear and total confrontation for total conflict,'” the North Korean spokesman said, citing the country’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. .
“If the US continues to introduce strategic assets to the Korean Peninsula and the surrounding area, the DPRK will make its deterrence activities more clear without fail according to their nature,” the spokesman said.
Jeon Ha Gyu, a spokesman for South Korea’s defense ministry, said the ministry had no immediate comment in response to North Korea’s statement. He said the allies’ latest air drills were aimed at proving the credibility of the US’s “extended deterrence”, referring to a commitment to use the full range of its military capabilities, including nuclear ones, to defend South Korea. He declined to disclose the exact number of US and South Korean aircraft participating in the exercise.
At a news conference after their meeting, Austin said he and South Korean Defense Minister Lee Yong-sup agreed to further expand their joint military exercises, including more live-fire demonstrations. They pledged to continue a “timely and coordinated” deployment of US strategic assets in the region.
They said their countries’ resumption of large-scale military exercises last year effectively demonstrated their combined capabilities to deter North Korean aggression. The allies had scaled back their training in recent years to make room for diplomacy with North Korea during the Trump administration and because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
South Korea and the United States are also boosting their security cooperation with Japan, which recently included trilateral missile defense and anti-submarine warfare exercises during a provocative run-up to North Korean weapons tests.
“We deployed fifth-generation aircraft, F-22s and F-35s, deployed a carrier strike group to visit the peninsula. You can look for more of these types of activities in the future,” Austin said.
Tensions could rise further in the coming months with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un doubling down on his nuclear ambitions.
During a policy conference in December, Kim called for an “exponential increase” in nuclear warheads, mass production of tactical battlefield nuclear weapons aimed at South Korea and the development of more powerful long-range missiles designed to reach the US mainland .
Experts say Kim’s nuclear push is aimed at forcing the United States to accept the idea of North Korea as a nuclear power so it can negotiate much-needed economic concessions from a position of strength. Nuclear negotiations between the US and North Korea have been derailed since 2019 over disagreements over the easing of US-led economic sanctions against the North in exchange for steps by North Korea to end its nuclear weapons and missile programmes.
North Korea’s spokesman said Pyongyang was not interested in any contact or dialogue with the United States as long as it maintained its “hostile political and confrontational line,” accusing Washington of maintaining sanctions and military pressure to force the North to “unilaterally disarm ». .”