North Korea Responds to Planned US Joint-Military Exercise with Threat of a Nuclear Response
March 4, 2016
Choe Sang-Hun / The New York Times & Choe Sang-Hun / The New York Times
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has urged his military to have its nuclear warheads deployed and ready to be fired at any moment. North Korea escalated its bellicose threats as the United States and South Korea prepare to begin massive joint-military exercises that Kim sees as a provocation aimed at overthrowing his regime. If the US and South Korea proceed with the military exercise, Kim has vowed to turn South Korea, the US and its Pacific bases into a "sea of fire."
North Korea's Kim Jong-un Tells Military
To Have Nuclear Warheads on Standby
Choe Sang-Hun / The New York Times
SEOUL, South Korea (March 3, 2016) — The North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, has urged his military to have its nuclear warheads deployed and ready to be fired at any moment, the country's state-run news agency reported Friday.
Mr. Kim's comments were reported a day after the United Nations Security Council approved tougher sanctions aimed at curtailing his country's ability to secure funds and technology for its nuclear weapons and ballistic-missile programs.
The North's official Korean Central News Agency called the resolution unanimously adopted by the Council "unprecedented and gangster-like," and it quoted Mr. Kim as repeating his exhortation to his military to further advance its nuclear and missile capabilities.
"The only way for defending the sovereignty of our nation and its right to existence under the present extreme situation is to bolster up nuclear force, both in quality and quantity, and keep balance of forces," Mr. Kim was quoted as saying.
He then stressed "the need to get the nuclear warheads deployed for national defense always on standby so as to be fired any moment," the agency said.
North Korea has often threatened nuclear war with the United States and has claimed to have built nuclear weapons small enough to be carried by missiles. Yet questions remain about its capabilities, including how close it has come to mastering technologies to build a small warhead and deliver it on a long-range missile.
In Seoul on Friday, representatives of the South Korean and American armed forces on a joint task force met to discuss the possible deployment of an advanced missile defense system called Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense, or Thaad.
South Korea agreed to consider the deployment after the North's launch of a long-range rocket on Feb. 7. The government of President Park Geun-hye says that Thaad would bolster its defense against North Korean missiles, but China has strongly opposed the deployment, saying that its presence on the Korean Peninsula would undermine its own nuclear deterrent capabilities.
In the past, North Korea has escalated its bellicose threats whenever the United States and South Korea start their annual joint military exercises, which it says are aimed at overthrowing its government.
Some of the annual drills are scheduled to begin this month. On Friday, the North Korean news agency charged that the exercises included drills for a "beheading operation" and the "collapse of social system" in the North.
"Now is the time for us to convert our mode of military counteraction toward the enemies into an pre-emptive attack one in every aspect," it quoted Mr. Kim as saying in response.
KCNA said that Mr. Kim had made his remarks while inspecting tests of new weapons, including fragmentation-mine shells and underground penetration shells for the North's newly developed large-caliber multiple-rocket launcher that it said had entered serial production.
It did not clarify when the tests had taken place. But the South Korean Defense Ministry said that North Korea had launched six projectiles off its east coast on Thursday, hours after the Security Council resolution was adopted unanimously.
The projectiles flew about 60 to 90 miles before landing in the sea, the ministry added. South Korean defense officials said that the North had been testing a new multiple-rocket launcher with a range long enough to strike major American and South Korean military bases, including those in the Osan-Pyeongtaek hub 62 miles south of Seoul.
Apart from its nuclear weapons, North Korea's multiple-rocket launchers and artillery pieces are its most-feared weapons in the South.
The North is estimated to have 13,000 of them clustered on the inter-Korean border, 28 miles north of Seoul; the North's occasional threats over the years to turn the South Korean capital into a "sea of fire" are presumed to be references to these weapons.
North Korea Issues New Threats
Ahead of US, South Korea Exercise
Paul Alexander / Stars and Stripes
(February 25, 2016) -- North Korea renewed its threat to turn South Korea, the United States and US bases in the Pacific into a "sea of fire" while railing against next month's joint military exercises and engaging in some revisionist history.
The threat, which appeared Thursday in Rodong Sinmun, North Korea's main newspaper, came as the top US military officer in Korea told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that he believes Kim Jong Un would use nuclear weapons if he felt threatened.
The North carried out its fourth underground nuclear test on Jan. 6 and followed with a multistage rocket launch a month later. While Pyongyang has claimed it developed nuclear weapons only for self-defense against a possible US-led invasion and that its space program is peaceful, it also says it is developing a nuclear bomb small enough to fit in a warhead on a missile capable of reaching the US mainland.
"I think that his stated purpose is to protect his regime and if he thought his regime were challenged, he states that he would use WMD (weapons of mass destruction)," US Forces Korea commander Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti said of Kim, who also is believed to have stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons.
"I think they have posed a very distinct and real threat, not only to peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula but globally," added Adm. Harry Harris, commander US Pacific Command. "They pose a real threat to Hawaii and to the West Coast of the mainland United States and soon to the entire US"
The North's recent provocations have set off a tit-for-tat series of escalations that led to the closing of a factory complex, seen as the last symbol of cooperation between the two Koreas. The closing deprives the North of a key source of hard currency for the cheap labor it provided.
There are also signs that South Korea might be willing to accept a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system from the US after hesitating out of concern over upsetting China and Russia, which claim the missile defense system could be used against them.
South Korea's president has vowed to get tougher on Pyongyang and referred to the regime's possible collapse if it doesn't give up its nuclear weapons. North Korea wants to be recognized as a nuclear state, which Washington has said it will never do.
The youthful Kim reportedly is still trying to consolidate power more than four years after taking over following the death of his father. The intense bout of saber-rattling is partially seen as a way to rally public support by showing that he is powerful, clearly in charge and leading the way in the face of an outside threat. North Korea issued photos showing him attending the rocket launch.
The poor country also is facing yet another round of UN Security Council sanctions for its nuclear and missile programs, although ally and neighbor China has been calling for negotiations instead of strong measures that could cause Kim's regime to collapse.
North Korea first vowed to turn Seoul into a "sea of fire" in 1994 and has repeated the threat a number of times since then, adding the US to its targets during the last major crisis on the peninsula in 2013. It even put together propaganda videos depicting US cities, including Washington D.C., in flames.
Pyongyang regularly calls joint US-South Korea exercises, particularly the annual Key Resolve command post exercise, as preparations to attack it. Rodong Sinmun said this year's drills, which are being called the biggest ever by South Korea's Ministry of Defense, would essentially be a "declaration of war" and that the training is aimed at "decapitating" the North Korean leadership.
"Let's turn Seoul and Washington into a sea of fire," South Korea's Yonhap News quoted the newspaper as saying. It vowed to "turn US military installations in the Asia-Pacific region and the US mainland into ashes" should the US fail to come to its senses.
The newspaper also carried photos related to the 1950-53 Korean War and the North's seizure in 1968 of the US intelligence ship Pueblo, claiming that the North's past conflicts with the US ended with "the US surrender and apology."
Scaparrotti said that if war were to break out, it likely would involve heavy ground combat. North Korea gives the lion's share of its resources to its large military, with most of its troops deployed near the Demilitarized Zone that separates the two Koreas.
"Given the size of the forces and the weaponry involved, this would be more akin to the Korean War and World War II, very complex, probably high casualty," Scaparrotti said.
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