News / Asia

    North Korea Threatens Pre-emptive Nuclear Strike

    South Korean army soldiers stand on their K-55 self-propelled howitzers during an annual exercise in Paju, near the border with North Korea, Monday, March 7, 2016.
    South Korean army soldiers stand on their K-55 self-propelled howitzers during an annual exercise in Paju, near the border with North Korea, Monday, March 7, 2016.
    Brian Padden

    North Korea has threatened a pre-emptive nuclear strike as U.S. and South Korean forces began their largest joint exercises ever conducted.

    The annual joint drills often intensify tensions on the divided Korean peninsula, but this year the situation is particularly volatile, given tough new United Nations sanctions imposed on North Korea for its recent nuclear test and long-range rocket launch. 

    The Philippines has already acted to enforce the sanctions when it impounded a cargo vessel linked to North Korea.

    This year’s joint exercises, known as Key Resolve and Foal Eagle, involve 17,000 American troops, four times more than participated last year, as well as 300,000 South Korean troops, and an array of U.S. aircraft and naval vessels, including the nuclear-powered submarine the USS North Carolina and the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier the USS John C. Stennis

    North Korea’s National Defense Commission Monday denounced the military exercises in a statement and said it was prepared for a "sacred war of justice for reunification.”

    "As the joint military exercises to be staged by the enemies are regarded as the most undisguised nuclear war drills, aimed to infringe upon the sovereignty of [North Korea], its military counteraction will be more a preemptive and offensive nuclear strike to cope with them," the statement said.
     
    US, South Korea react
     
    The U.S. reacted to Pyongyang’s threat of a pre-emptive strike saying it takes all threats seriously and is closely monitoring the situation.

    The annual joint military exercises between the U.S. and South Korea are “transparent” and “defense-oriented,” said a State Department official.
     
    The official said in contrast to the situation involving the U.S. and South Korea, Pyongyang had not invited international monitors to observe its military drills and had “refuses” to engage with the Neutral National Supervisory Commission.

    Amphibious assault vehicles of the South Korean Marine Corps throw smoke bombs during a U.S.-South Korea joint landing operation drill in Pohang, southeast of Seoul, during Foal Eagle exercises in 2013.
    Amphibious assault vehicles of the South Korean Marine Corps throw smoke bombs during a U.S.-South Korea joint landing operation drill in Pohang, southeast of Seoul, during Foal Eagle exercises in 2013.

    South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Moon Sang-kyun called the North Korean pre-emptive strike threat “unacceptable.”

    “If North Korea ignores our warnings and provokes, our military will firmly and mercilessly respond.  We warn North Korea that it must be responsible for all situations which lead to its reckless provocations,” he said on Monday.

    No hotline

    North Korea’s recent nuclear test and rocket launch has triggered retaliatory responses that increase the potential for inter-Korean conflict.

    The Seoul government closed the Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC) that it jointly operated with Pyongyang.  

    North Korea then immediately deported all South Koreans who were working at the KIC and cut an emergency communication hotline put in place to defuse dangerous military situations.

    South Korean vehicles returning from North Korea's joint Kaesong Industrial Complex pass the customs, immigration and quarantine office near the border village of Panmunjom, in Paju, South Korea, Feb. 11, 2016.
    South Korean vehicles returning from North Korea's joint Kaesong Industrial Complex pass the customs, immigration and quarantine office near the border village of Panmunjom, in Paju, South Korea, Feb. 11, 2016.

    With U.S. and South Korean forces on high alert and with no working communication hotline, any perceived North Korean provocation could easily escalate.

    “If North Korea wants to take some kind of belligerent military action against the South and in some limited way, I think they are running a very high risk of facing some retaliation,” said Northeast Asia security analyst Daniel Pinkston with Troy University in Seoul.

    Impounded cargo vessel

    The Philippines has become the first country to enforce the new United Nations sanctions on North Korea.

    The Philippine Coast Guard on Friday detained and searched the Jin Teng, a 4,355-ton cargo ship with a crew of 21 North Korean citizens. 

    The vessel was carrying agricultural byproducts often used as livestock feed.

    The search revealed no illicit cargo related to North Korea’s banned arms trade or nuclear program, only minor safety violations.

    FILE - In this March 4, 2016 file photo, crewmen of the North Korean cargo vessel Jin Teng stand on the middle of the deck as it unloads its cargo while docked at Subic Bay, in Zambales province, northwest of Manila, Philippines.
    FILE - In this March 4, 2016 file photo, crewmen of the North Korean cargo vessel Jin Teng stand on the middle of the deck as it unloads its cargo while docked at Subic Bay, in Zambales province, northwest of Manila, Philippines.

    However, the Jin Teng has been sanctioned by the U.N. as one of 31 vessels owned by Pyongyang-based Ocean Maritime Management Co. (OMM) for past involvement in trading arms.

    In 2014, the OMM was banned by the U.N. when one of its ships was caught transporting jet fighters and other weapons from Cuba during an inspection in Panama.

    Philippine authorities impounded the vessel, are planning to deport the crew and have called in the United Nations to coordinate further actions to be taken.

    Manuel L. Quezon III, a member of President Benigno Aquino’s communications team, told a government-run radio station Saturday that “as a member of the U.N., the Philippines has to do its part to enforce the sanctions.”

    VOA's Pam Dockins at the State Department and Youmi Kim in Seoul contributed to this report.

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    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: williweb from: Phoenix Arizona USA
    March 07, 2016 10:41 PM
    I hope NK doesn't think they could get away with a pre-emptive nuclear strike. Even if the strike failed there would be hell to pay. I think a shipload of corn, wheat and rice would be a suitable gesture of good will. Maybe we could send him some face jewelry from Rodman.

    by: asiatoday from: Europe
    March 07, 2016 7:56 PM
    North Korea's Nuclear Threatens, many observers dismiss the rhetoric as bluster, others warn of "the tyranny of low expectations"

    by: Anonymous
    March 07, 2016 2:20 PM
    This is what happens when mental illness goes unchecked. The subject displays classic symptoms associated with acute delusional paranoia and sociopathic tendencies. To suggest North Korea's Kim Jung-il is insane, should be left to an international psychiatric conference. Or; we can just form our own opinion and conclude the SOB is effing nuts. Or; is now one eggroll short of a Poo-Poo Platter.
    In Response

    by: meanbill from: USA
    March 07, 2016 4:59 PM
    "Act like you are going to attack, when you are not, and act like you are withdrawing when you are going to attack" from the book "The Art of War" by Sun Tzu. _ As long as the US believes that North Korea has defensive nuclear weapons, the US won't attack them? .. Like two dogs snarling and growling and prepared to fight, over a bone they both can't reach?
    In Response

    by: Zegota from: Michigan
    March 07, 2016 3:10 PM
    Oh come on, if we use todays acceptable standards under Political Correctness and growing Entitlement Mentality we can no longer use such terms. Kim Jung-il is just a misunderstood leader that needs some social friends, if Obama would just invite him to spend a couple of nights in his White House, everything would be ok. Not! 1776

    by: Lou from: Atlanta
    March 07, 2016 1:57 PM
    They wouldn't dare. Probably just a lot of talk. Talk is cheap.

    by: Marcus Aurelius II from: NJ USA
    March 07, 2016 10:10 AM
    The best defense is a good offense. Ask any military strategist such as a good chess player. The best way to defend the US against these threats is to take all of North Korea's military capability out in one huge single surprise blow. This might require the use of nuclear weapons. If the threat is credible, then it is them or us who is destroyed. It had better not be us.

    The US taught the world a lesson at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Perhaps it needs a refresher course to remind it that the US will use nuclear weapons to defend itself if it must.
    In Response

    by: Marcus Aurelius II from: NJ USA
    March 08, 2016 8:33 AM
    Mutually assured destruction only works when each side has the ability to destroy the other even after a surprise first strike. With thousands of nuclear weapons and delivery systems on each side the policy of MAD worked between the US and the USSR/Russia. It does not work for North Korea. After a nuclear first strike, North Korea would not have the capacity to retaliate against the US. It does not have anything like that capability. Its primitive nuclear devices may not even be deliverable weapons.

    No effective defensive or offensive capability would remain existing in North Korea. A direct threat of a nuclear attack on the US by North Korea is a justification for an American nuclear first strike. This would have been entirely unnecessary had the US destroyed North Korea's military and industrial capabilities a long time ago when it had that capability. So called international law which is a farce has tied America's hands making it unable to defend itself before the threat and consequences become dire.
    In Response

    by: williweb from: Phoenix Arizona USA
    March 08, 2016 12:47 AM
    Even contemplating the use of nuclear weapons makes it a little more conceivable that it might happen. All of the nuclear states, except NK, know that mutual assured destruction has kept the peace between us for 50 years. I hope it continues until we can eliminated nuclear weapons altogether.

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