N Korea vows 'overwhelming nuclear force' to counter US amid military drill

  • 2 Feb 2023

Pyongyang reacts to US plans to increase its deployment of advanced military assets to the Korean Peninsula, including fighter jets and aircraft carriers.

North Korea describes the US' combined military exercises with South Korea as rehearsals for a potential invasion. ( Reuters )

North Korea has said it is prepared to counter US military moves with the "most overwhelming nuclear force" as it warned that the expansion of the United States' ongoing military exercises with rival South Korea is pushing tensions to an "extreme red line." 

The statement by Pyongyang's Foreign Ministry on Thursday also follows comments by US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who said earlier this week 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 US 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 by the allies 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 US 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 Defence Ministry said the United States flew B-1B bombers and F-22 and F-35 fighter jets in an exercise on Wednesday with South Korean fighters above South Korea's western waters. 

More air drills featuring strategic bombers and stealth fighters were also held on Thursday. 

The United States and South Korea are also planning to hold a simulation exercise this month aimed at sharpening their response if North Korea uses nuclear weapons. 

READ MORE: North Korea vows to expand nuclear warhead production 'exponentially'

'Nuke for nuke'

North Korea ramped up its own weapons demonstrations 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 US targets. 

"DPRK will take the toughest reaction to any military attempt of the US 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. 

Jeon Ha Gyu, spokesperson of South Korea's Defense Ministry, said the ministry had no immediate comment in response to the North Korean statement. 

He said the allies' latest aerial drills were aimed at demonstrating the credibility of the US "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 US and South Korean aircraft involved in the exercise.

In a news conference following their meeting, Austin said he and South Korean Defence 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 US strategic assets to the region. 

They said that their countries' resumption of large-scale military drills last year effectively demonstrated their combined capabilities to deter North Korean aggression. The allies had 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.

READ MORE: South Korea warns of response not 'seen before' to North Korea

Derailed nuclear negotiations

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 in coming months 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 US mainland. 

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 US and North Korea have been derailed since 2019 because of disagreements over a relaxation of US-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," accusing Washington of maintaining sanctions and military pressure to force the North to "disarm itself unilaterally."

READ MORE: North Korea 'shaking the world' by testing missiles with US in range