SEOUL – North Korea has warned that the United States and South Korea will face “unprecedented” security challenges if they don’t stop their hostile military pressure campaign against the North, including joint military drills.
North Korea views any regular U.S.-South Korean military training as an invasion rehearsal even though the allies have steadfastly said they have no intention of attacking the North. The latest warning came as Washington and Seoul prepare to expand their upcoming summertime training following the North’s provocative run of missile tests this year.
“Should the U.S. and its allies opt for military confrontation with us, they would be faced with unprecedented instability security-wise,” 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 said that Washington and Seoul’s joint military drills this year are driving the Korean Peninsula to the brink of war. He accused U.S. and South Korean officials of plotting to discuss the deployment of U.S. nuclear strategic assets during another joint drill set to begin next month.
“The U.S. should keep in mind that it will be treated on a footing of equality when it threatens us with nukes,” Choe said. He said Washington must abandon “its anachronistic and suicidal policy of hostility” toward North Korea or it will face “an undesirable consequence.”
The regular U.S.-South Korea military drills are a major source of animosity on the Korean Peninsula, with North Korea often responding with missile tests or warlike rhetoric.
In May, U.S. President Joe Biden and new South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol said after their summit that they would consider expanded joint military exercises to deter North Korean nuclear threats. Biden also reaffirmed the American extended deterrence commitment to South Korea, a reference to a full range of U.S. defense capabilities including nuclear ones.
Their announcement reflected a change in direction from that of their predecessors. Former U.S. President Donald Trump complained about the cost of the U.S.-South Korean military drills, while former South Korean President Moon Jae-in faced criticism that his dovish engagement policy only helped North Korea buy time to perfect its weapons technology. Yoon accused Moon of tilting toward North Korea and away from the United States.
The U.S. and South Korean militaries haven’t officially announced details about their summertime drills including exactly when they would start. But South Korean defense officials said the drills would involve field training for the first time since 2018 along with the existing computer-simulated tabletop exercises.
In recent years, the South Korean and U.S. militaries have cancelled or downsized some of their regular exercises due to concerns about COVID-19 and to support now-stalled U.S.-led diplomacy aimed at convincing North Korea to give up its nuclear program in return for economic and political benefits.
The United States has called on North Korea to resume the dormant diplomacy without any preconditions, but North Korea has countered it won’t return to talks unless the United States first drops its hostile policies against it, in an apparent reference to its military drills with South Korea and the economic sanctions.
This year, North Korea has test-launched a slew of ballistic missiles including nuclear-capable ones designed to attack both the U.S. mainland and South Korea in violation of U.N. resolutions banning such tests. Observers say North Korea wants to be recognized as a nuclear state and win sanctions relief.
Choe repeated North Korea's previous position that its missile tests are legitimate exercises of its sovereign right to defend the country. He called the recent U.S. and South Korean missile tests “double-standards.”
North Korea hasn’t yet conducted its widely expected nuclear test, which would be the first of its kind in five years. Seoul officials say an ongoing COVID-19 outbreak and opposition from China, its most important ally and biggest aid provider, are likely the reasons why North Korea hasn’t carried out the bomb test.
On Friday, Yoon told reporters that North Korea remains ready to conduct a nuclear test and that South Korea also has measures ready to cope with it.