North Korea threatened “more powerful follow-up measures” Tuesday in response to the joint U.S.-South Korea aerial exercises, the largest in the allies’ history, according to The Associated Press.
North Korea’s foreign ministry criticized the aerial drills, which began Monday, as a rehearsal for a potential invasion and indicative of dangerous escalation in tensions between the communist country and its southern democratic neighbor, the AP reported. The U.S. and South Korean joint “Vigilant Storm” exercises involve over 200 fighter aircraft and are intended to project a message of strength and resiliency as North Korea ramps up weapons testing.
“If the U.S. continuously persists in the grave military provocations, the [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] will take into account more powerful follow-up measures,” a spokesperson for the foreign ministry said, according to the AP. Although the ministry did not preview specific actions, the spokesperson said the country would take “all necessary measures” to defend itself against U.S. and South Korean aggression.
The “Vigilant Storm” drills will continue through Friday and follow Seoul’s “Hoguk” field exercises that involved thousands of South Korean troops performing joint maneuvers an unspecified number of U.S. military forces over 12 days, the AP reported. (RELATED: NATO To Host Nuclear Weapons Drills As Tensions With Russia Run High)
The U.S. scaled down military exercises over recent years in a bid to coax North Korea into complying with United Nations resolutions condemning its nuclear and ballistic missile industries, as well as to accommodate COVID-19 pandemic hurdles, according to the AP.
However, North Korea has fired a record 40 test missiles since the beginning of 2022, including some capable of carrying nuclear warheads to long-distance targets. The latest launches came on Friday as Pyongyang sent two short-range ballistic missiles plummeting into the sea.
While North Korea postured the recent barrage of missile tests as a response to heightened U.S. and South Korean drills, it also provides Pyongyang an opportunity to exercise its nuclear weapons capability in support of its overt goal to become a nuclear power, according to the AP.
Officials in Seoul and Washington have said North Korea may detonate an atomic bomb in the coming weeks, its first nuclear weapons test since 2017 and sixth overall, the AP reported.
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and her Japanese and South Korean counterparts vowed an “unparalleled” response to North Korea’s expected nuclear test at a three-way meeting on Wednesday.
Sherman urged Pyongyang to rein in further “provocations,” calling them “reckless and deeply destabilizing for the region,” according to Reuters.
U.S. leaders have sounded the alarm over North Korea’s weapons test for months; Sherman said the U.S. would meet a North Korean nuclear weapons test with a commensurate “forceful response” in June, as expectations of a practice explosion mounted, according to Bloomberg.
“We know that the North Koreans have done preparations for a nuclear test, and we will be obviously vigilant and be in close touch with our allies and partners to be able to respond very quickly, very swiftly should the North Koreans proceed,” Sung Kim, the U.S. special representative for North Korea, said, according to Bloomberg.
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