On the same day that the United States and Japan began joint military drills on an unprecedented scale in the Sea of Japan off the coastline of North Korea, the isolated country issued its latest World War 3 threat against the United States — claiming to possess the “most powerful nuclear weapon” and warning that the United States will “face disgrace” in a military showdown with North Korea.
As with all statements coming out of North Korea, Thursday’s statement is likely to have been approved by the country’s 33-year-old “supreme leader,” Kim Jong-un, the grandson of North Korea’s founding ruler Kim Il-sung who died in 1994 at age 82.
“The U.S. had better make a wise option though belatedly, before it may face further disgrace, clearly understanding that time, justice and final victory all belong to the DPRK holding firm the most powerful nuclear weapon,” the official statement issued by the government-run Korean Central News Agency read.
The statement came in response to the joint military exercises conducted by the U.S. and Japan, in which Japanese fighter pilots, flying high-tech F-15 jets, trained with both the USS Carl Vinson and USS Ronald Reagan American aircraft carriers.
“It’s the first time we have exercised with two carriers. It’s a major exercise for us,” a spokesperson for Japan’s Self Defense Force — the name used by Japan for its military — told the Reuters news agency.
Additionally, the joint exercises in the Sea of Japan are believed to be the first conducted there in approximately 20 years.
The U.S. sent the second of the two aircraft carriers to the Korean peninsula this week in response to the increasingly frequent missile tests carries out by North Korea, including a test launch of a SCUD missile on Monday that penetrated Japan’s “Exclusive Economic Zone” in the Sea of Japan.
Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe vowed to take joint action with the U.S. against North Korea following Monday’s missile test.
“The issue of North Korea is a top priority for the international community,” Abe said on Monday. “Working with the United States, we will take specific action to deter North Korea.”
The joint maneuvers began on Wednesday and are scheduled to wrap up on Friday, but the U.S. Defense Department claims that the drills are not a muscle-flexing exercise intended to intimidate North Korea.
“This is not about sending a message directly to North Korea,” said David Helvey, a top aide for Asia policy to Secretary of Defense James “Mad Dog” Mattis. “I don’t expect this to change North Korea’s behavior.”
Instead, Helvey said that despite the fact that such joint exercises had not been carried out in two decades, this week’s operations were simply routine and designed only to increase the military readiness of both countries.
While the claim that North Korea possesses the “most powerful nuclear weapon” appears highly dubious, experts agree that North Korea has developed nuclear weapons. The problem for North Korea is that the country’s nuclear program does not yet appear capable of producing a bomb compact enough in size to be mounted on an intercontinental ballistic missile, making it a danger to other countries including the U.S. However, experts say that North Korea could launch a nuclear strike over the border with South Korea.
The country has conducted five test explosions of nuclear bombs, the latest coming in September of last year when North Korea exploded a nuclear bomb believed to have a yield as high as 30 kilotons. If accurate, that yield would mean that North Korea is now in possession of a nuclear weapon twice as powerful as the atomic bomb dropped by the United States on Hiroshima, Japan, on August 6, 1945. The Hiroshima bomb killed approximately 66,000 people and injured about 69,000 others, according the United States’ own estimates.
In a 2015 report, the U.S.-Korea Institute, a Washington, D.C., think tank that focuses on the eastern Asia region, said that North Korea had the capability to produce up to 30 nuclear weapons. Experts believe that the country may also have constructed as many as 130 missiles capable of carrying a nuclear warhead, but North Korea is believed to need about three more years before developing a warhead compact enough to be mounted on a missile.
[Featured Image by Wong Maye-E/AP Images]