On Monday, the United States and South Korea started their largest joint military exercise in years as part of an effort to strengthen their security posture in response to the mounting nuclear threat posed by North Korea.
It is possible that North Korea will respond angrily to the drills. This year, North Korea has increased the number of times it has conducted tests of its weapons while also making repeated threats of conflict with South Korea and the United States in the midst of a prolonged impasse in diplomatic efforts.
The Ulchi Freedom Shield drills will continue in South Korea through September 1 and will involve field exercises using planes, warships, tanks, and perhaps tens of thousands of soldiers. These exercises will take place in South Korea.
The United States and South Korea depict their drills as defensive in nature, but North Korea perceives them as rehearsals for an invasion, which North Korea uses to justify its development of nuclear weapons and missiles.
A representative for South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which is in charge of handling inter-Korean relations, by the name of Cho Joong-hoon said that the South has not instantly noticed any odd activity or indicators coming from the North.
In recent years, in order to make room for diplomatic efforts with North Korea and because of concerns regarding COVID-19, the United States and South Korea cancelled some of their regular drills and reduced others to computer simulations. This was done in an effort to reduce tensions on the Korean peninsula.
According to reports, the Ulchi Freedom Shield would feature simulated joint assaults, front-line reinforcements of weaponry and fuel, and removals of weapons of mass destruction. The exercise began concurrently with a four-day South Korean civil defence training session organised by government personnel.
Following North Korea’s rejection of South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol’s offer to trade denuclearization measures for economic advantages and Pyongyang’s accusation that South Korea is rehashing offers Pyongyang has long rejected, the South Korean government decided to conduct the exercises.
Kim Yo Jong, the ever-more-powerful sister of Kim Jong Un, the leader of North Korea, dismissed Yoon’s proposal as foolish and emphasised that her country has no plans to trade away an arsenal that Kim Jong Un appears to view as his best chance of surviving. Yoon’s proposal was made public after Kim Yo Jong made her remarks.
She levelled severe criticism at Yoon for maintaining military drills with the United States as well as for Seoul’s inability to prevent South Korean civilian activists from sending anti-Pyongyang propaganda leaflets and other “dirty garbage” over the border via balloons.
She also ridiculed the capabilities of the United States and South Korea to monitor the North’s missile activity, insisting that Seoul had incorrectly identified the launch location of the North’s most recent missile tests on the previous Wednesday. This occurred just a few hours before Yoon urged Pyongyang to return to the negotiating table at a news conference.
Earlier this month, Kim Yo Jong issued a threat of “deadly” retaliation against South Korea in response to a recent COVID-19 outbreak in North Korea. Pyongyang claims that the outbreak was caused by leaflets and other objects that were floated by southern activists, but there is little evidence to support this claim.
Choe Jin, deputy director of a think tank run by North Korea’s Foreign Ministry, stated in an interview with Associated Press Television a month ago that the United States and South Korea would face “unprecedented” security challenges if they did not stop their hostile military pressure campaign against North Korea, including joint military drills. Choe Jin’s comments were made in reference to the fact that the United States and South Korea conduct regular military drills.
The launches of two suspected cruise missiles last week prolonged a record pace of North Korean missile testing in 2022, which has comprised more than 30 ballistic launches. These launches include the country’s first displays of intercontinental ballistic missiles in over five years.
According to the opinions of various experts, North Korea’s increased nuclear testing activity highlights its dual intent to advance its arsenal and force the United States to accept the idea of the North as a nuclear power. This allows North Korea to negotiate economic and security concessions from a position of strength, which would be advantageous for North Korea.
There is reason to believe that North Korea is getting ready to carry out its first nuclear test since September 2017, when it announced that it had created a thermonuclear weapon that could be mounted on its ICBMs. If this is the case, Kim Jong Un may soon up the ante by conducting his own nuclear test.