Kim Jong Un says Korean peninsula on the ‘brink of war’
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has accused the US and South Korea of bringing the Korean peninsula to the “brink of war”, as Seoul and Washington prepare for their first large-scale joint military exercises in four years.
In remarks reported on Thursday from an event on Wednesday to mark the anniversary of the end of the Korean war in 1953, Kim threatened to “wipe out” South Korean forces with nuclear weapons in the event of a confrontation.
“Our armed forces are completely prepared to respond to any crisis, and our country’s nuclear war deterrent is also ready to mobilise its absolute power dutifully, exactly and swiftly in accordance with its mission,” North Korean state media reported Kim as saying.
“It is a suicidal act, and absurd and extremely dangerous, to talk about military action against our country when we actually already have the most powerful weapon which you fear the most.”
The joint US-South Korean military exercises next month will be the first large-scale drills since 2018, when they were scaled down ahead of a summit between Kim and then-US president Donald Trump. Since 2019, the exercises have been reduced to computer-simulated command post-training.
This year’s exercises, to be held in late August and early September, will include joint aircraft carrier strike drills and amphibious landing training.
A spokesperson for the South Korean defence ministry told reporters that Kim’s speech was “not something new”.
“It’s a situation that has continued constantly, where North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats have increased,” said the spokesperson. “We are responding to that.”
Yoon Suk-yeol, South Korea’s conservative president, has vowed to “normalise” the joint drills with the US to enhance deterrence against the North, which has conducted at least 28 ballistic missile tests in 2022 — the most ever in a single year.
Pyongyang has also finalised preparations for its seventh nuclear test, according to the US and South Korean governments.
In his speech on Wednesday, Kim blamed the US for “demonising” Pyongyang’s “routine” military developments as “provocations”. He warned “military gangsters” in the South Korean government to stop issuing what he described as threats.
North Korea’s foreign ministry issued a statement on Wednesday describing the joint US-South Korea exercises as being conducted with a “thick gunpowder smell”. It called the two countries “a horde of belligerents wanting the wretchedness of war”.
The ministry also warned that this summer’s joint drills may “spread into the second Korean war”.
The Korean war started in 1950 when Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Un’s grandfather, launched a disastrous invasion of the South. But in its official propaganda, North Korea maintains that the war was provoked by the US and South Korea.
In an editorial this week, North Korean state newspaper Rodong Sinmun urged citizens “always to keep in mind the historic philosophy that the nature of the US imperialists and class enemies will never change and you must hate imperialism unconditionally”.
“In the seven decades since North Korea invaded and failed to conquer South Korea, the Kim regime has become more internationally isolated and lost the peace to South Korea’s globally successful capitalist democracy,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.
“That is why Kim Jong Un uses his ‘Victory Day’ speech to bolster national pride in the fiction that Pyongyang is winning a protracted struggle with its nuclear-armed missiles.”