On Monday, North Korea threatened to carry out nuclear strikes against the US and South Korea. The threat comes as the two allies kicked off their large-scale annual military exercises.
In a statement issued hours before the drills began, North Korea’s powerful National Defence Commission said it was prepared for an “all-out” military counter-offensive.
Describing the exercises as “nuclear war drills” aimed at undermining North Korea’s sovereignty, the statement said the Supreme Command of the Korean People’s Army was ready to launch a “pre-emptive and offensive nuclear strike” in response.
The large-scale joint military exercise between the US and South Korea is called Key Resolve and Foal Eagle. This year, the event is bigger than it is in the past as it involves 300,000 South Korean and 17,000 US troops. The exercise also includes strategic US naval vessels and air force assets.
The US drills always raise tension in the divided Korean peninsula but the situation is particularly volatile this year given North Korea’s recent nuclear test and long-range rocket launch. North Korea is also upset about the newly imposed super-tough UN sanctions.
North Korea’s threat came just days after its leader Kim Jong-Un ordered the country’s nuclear arsenal to be placed on standby, in response to the sanctions resolution adopted UN Security Council last week.
The National Defence Commission of Korea said plans for what it called a “pre-emptive nuclear strike of justice” had been ratified by Kim Jong-Un.
The plans would come into operation in the event of “even the slightest military action” by the North’s enemies, it said.
“The indiscriminate nuclear strike… will clearly show those keen on aggression and war, the military mettle of (North Korea),” said the statement carried by the North’s official KCNA news agency.
Pyongyang has issued similar, dire warnings of nuclear attack in the past, usually during periods of elevated military tensions.
While the North is known to have a small stockpile of nuclear warheads, experts are divided about its ability to mount them on a working missile delivery system.
(With inputs from agencies)