Less than a week back, Pyongyang’s threat of “overwheling” nuclear force against Washington’s combined military exercises with rival Seoul was pushing regional tensions to an “extreme red line.”
North Korea’s Foreign Ministry statement chased comments by US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who said in Seoul two days earlier the United States would increase its deployment of advanced military assets to the Korean Peninsula.
These would include fighter jets and aircraft carriers, as Wasington strengthens joint training and operational planning with its ally south of the Demilitarized Zone.
Since the armistice was signed in Panmonjom in the DMZ between North and South Korea on July 27, 1953, areas of contention have since revolved around Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program and missile tests, and military exercises held by the US and South Korea.
Seoul’s security restlessness have risen since Pyongyang test-fired dozens of missiles in 2022, including potentially nuclear-capable ones designed to strike targets in South Korea, Guam and the US mainland.
A statement attributed to an unidentified spokesman of North Korea’s Foreign Ministry stressed the expansion of the allies’ military drills was threatening to turn the Korean Peninsula into a “huge war arsenal and a more critical war zone.”
It added the North was prepared to counter any short- or long-term military challenge by the allies with the “most overwhelming nuclear force.”
The scenario duplicates the 2017–2018 North Korea crisis, a period of heightened tension between North Korea and the United States throughout 2017, which began when North Korea conducted a series of missile and nuclear tests that demonstrated the country’s ability to launch ballistic missiles beyond its immediate region.
Analysts have said North Korea’s long-range missile and nuclear programs represent the region’s most immediate security challenge, and any major instability or conflict on the Korean Peninsula would have severe strategic, economic and humanitarian repercussions.
A North Korean attack on the United States would also trigger Australia’s commitments under the ANZUS – Australia, New Zealand and the United States – alliance, which has a 1951 non-binding collective security agreement to protect the security of the Pacific.
North Korea has been testing the Hwasong-14 ballistic missile with a range of 8,000km—although some studies suggest it could travel as far as 10,000km, making it capable of reaching New York.
North Korea’s purported withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty and defiance of UN Security Council resolutions weaken the global restraints on the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology, including ballistic missiles.
The last time North Korea tested a nuclear bomb was in 2017. The explosion at its Punggye-ri test site had a force or “yield” of between 100-370 kilotons.
A 100 kiloton bomb is six times more powerful than the one the US dropped on Hiroshima in 1945.
South Korea has thus far refrained from commenting on North Korea’s statement, but a spokesman of the Defense Ministry said the allies’ latest aerial drills were aimed at demonstrating the credibility of the US’ “extended deterrence” – a reference to a commitment to use the full range of its military capabilities to defend South Korea.
Meanwhile, we watch developments in the region with edginess, as security officials create room for diplomacy to maintain regional peace. .