North Korea warns of “unprecedently persistent” action in response to US-South Korea military drills

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North Korea issued a stern warning to its rivals on Friday following the announcement of planned military exercises between South Korea and the United States. The warning comes after North Korea ceased its weapons testing activities since firing a short-range missile on January 1, 2023. Yet it launched more than 70 missiles in 2022, a record for a single year.

North Korea views the military training of its rivals as preparations for an invasion rehearsal. Its statement carried by state media says that if the United States and South Korea go ahead with the announced military drills, they will face “unprecedentedly persistent” and strong counteractions. The statement also accused South Korea and the US of planning more than 20 rounds of military drills, including their largest-ever field exercises, which it said would disrupt regional peace and stability.

North Korea did not specify which US-South Korean military training it was referring to, but it has previously denounced major regular military drills as a pretext for invasion and has responded with its own weapons tests.

According to some experts, North Korea has been using joint South Korea-US drills as an opportunity to test and improve its weapons systems, with the ultimate goal of gaining international recognition as a legitimate nuclear state and securing relief from sanctions and other concessions. However, both Seoul and Washington have maintained that their exercises are purely defensive in nature. In a recent announcement, South Korea’s deputy minister of national defense policy, Heo Tae-keun, stated that the allies would hold an annual computer-simulated combined training in mid-March, which will incorporate lessons learned from the Russia-Ukraine War and address North Korea’s nuclear threats. Additionally, the two countries will conduct joint field exercises in mid-March that will be larger than those held in recent years. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and diplomatic efforts related to North Korea’s nuclear program, some regular drills had been downsized or canceled in recent years.

Earlier Friday, South Korean officials announced that a one-day tabletop exercise would be conducted by South Korea and the United States next week at the Pentagon. The exercise, set to take place on Wednesday, is aimed at enhancing the countries’ response to the potential use of nuclear weapons by North Korea. The Defense Ministry of South Korea stated that the exercise would simulate various scenarios where North Korea deploys nuclear weapons, explore military strategies to counter them, and develop crisis management plans.

South Korea has been increasingly concerned about North Korea’s nuclear program since Pyongyang authorized the preemptive use of nuclear weapons last year and tested missiles with nuclear capabilities that put South Korea in range. In response, South Korea and the United States have expanded their joint military drills and put more pressure on North Korea to abandon its nuclear program.

During their annual meeting in November, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and South Korean Defense Minister Lee Jong-Sup agreed to conduct tabletop exercises annually and improve information sharing, joint planning, and execution. Austin also warned that any nuclear attack by North Korea on the United States or its allies would lead to the end of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s regime.

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