N. Korea: Overwhelming Nuclear Force 02/02 06:04
North Korea said Thursday it's prepared to counter U.S. military moves with
the "most overwhelming nuclear force" as it warned that the expansion of the
United States' military exercises with rival South Korea is pushing tensions to
an "extreme red line."
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- North Korea said Thursday it's prepared to
counter U.S. military moves with the "most overwhelming nuclear force" as it
warned that the expansion of the United States' military exercises with rival
South Korea is pushing tensions to an "extreme red line."
The statement by Pyongyang's Foreign Ministry came in response to comments
by U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who said Tuesday in Seoul that the
United States would increase its deployment of advanced military assets to the
Korean Peninsula, including fighter jets and aircraft carriers, as it
strengthens joint training and operational planning with South Korea.
South Korea's security jitters have risen since North Korea test-fired
dozens of missiles in 2022, including potentially nuclear-capable ones designed
to strike targets in South Korea and the U.S. mainland.
In a statement attributed to an unidentified spokesperson of its Foreign
Ministry, North Korea said the expansion of the allies' drills is threatening
to turn the Korean Peninsula into a "huge war arsenal and a more critical war
zone." The statement said the North is prepared to counter any short- or
long-term military challenge with the "most overwhelming nuclear force."
"The military and political situation on the Korean Peninsula and in the
region has reached an extreme red line due to the reckless military
confrontational maneuvers and hostile acts of the U.S. and its vassal forces,"
the spokesperson said.
North Korea for decades has described the United States' combined military
exercises with South Korea as rehearsals for a potential invasion, although the
allies have described those 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 Wednesday with South Korean fighters
above South Korea's western waters. The United States and South Korea are also
planning to a joint simulation this month aimed at sharpening their response if
North Korea uses nuclear weapons.
The North Korean statement portends another provocative run in weapons
demonstrations in 2023, similar to how the North ramped up its own weapons
launches in 2022 as the allies resumed their large-scale training. North
Korea's actions included a slew of missile and artillery launches that it
described as simulated nuclear attacks on South Korean and U.S. targets.
"DPRK will take the toughest reaction to any military attempt of the U.S. on
the principle of 'nuke for nuke and an all-out confrontation for an all-out
confrontation!'" the North Korean spokesperson said, invoking the country's
formal name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
"If the U.S. continues to introduce strategic assets into the Korean
Peninsula and its surrounding area, the DPRK will make clearer its deterring
activities without fail according to their nature," the spokesperson said.
When asked about the North Korean statement in the Philippines on Thursday,
Austin said the United States is "very serious" about its commitment to
defending South Korea and will continue to work alongside its allies and "train
and ensure that we maintain credible and ready forces."
Ahn Eunju, spokesperson of South Korea's Foreign Ministry, said North
Korea's expansion of its nuclear weapons and missile program and verbal threats
of preemptive nuclear attacks have forced Seoul to react sternly to ensure the
protection of its citizens.
"North Korea is the one that's elevating tensions on the Korean Peninsula by
rejecting dialogue offers from South Korea and the United States and making
nuclear and missile provocations and threats," she said, urging Pyongyang to
return to denuclearization talks.
Jeon Ha Gyu, spokesperson of South Korea's Defense Ministry, said the
allies' latest aerial drills were aimed at demonstrating the credibility of the
U.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 reveal the exact number of U.S. and South Korean aircraft involved
in the exercise.
In a news conference following their meeting on Tuesday, Austin said he and
South Korean Defense Minister Lee Jong-Sup agreed to further expand their
combined military exercises, including more live-fire demonstrations. They
pledged to continue a "timely and coordinated" deployment of U.S. strategic
assets to the region.
The allies had previously downsized their training in recent years to create
room for diplomacy with North Korea during the Trump administration and because
of the COVID-19 pandemic.
South Korea and the United States have also been strengthening their
security cooperation with Japan, which recently included trilateral missile
defense and anti-submarine warfare exercises during a provocative run in North
Korean weapons tests.
"We deployed fifth-generation aircraft, F-22s and F-35s, we deployed a
carrier strike group to visit the peninsula. You can look for more of that kind
of activity going forward," Austin said.
Tensions could further rise with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un doubling
down on his nuclear ambitions.
During a political conference in December, Kim called for an "exponential
increase" in nuclear warheads, mass production of battlefield tactical nuclear
weapons targeting South Korea, and the development of more powerful long-range
missiles designed to reach the U.S. mainland.
Kim could showcase his growing arsenal of nuclear-capable missiles next week
as commercial satellite images indicate preparations for a huge military parade
in capital Pyongyang, likely for the 75th founding anniversary of its army that
falls on Feb. 8.
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 badly
needed economic concessions from a position of strength. Nuclear negotiations
between the U.S. and North Korea stopped in 2019 because of disagreements over
a relaxation of U.S.-led economic sanctions against the North in exchange for
steps by North Korea to wind down its nuclear weapons and missiles programs.
The North Korean spokesperson said Pyongyang isn't interested in any contact
or dialogue with the United States as long as it maintains its "hostile policy
and confrontational line," saying Washington is trying to force Pyongyang to
"disarm itself unilaterally."