North Korea Threatens Nuclear Strike Over Annual South Korean/United States Joint Exercise

North Korea has threatened to conduct a “preemptive nuclear strike” on both South Korea and the United States in response to their annual military exercise, this year dubbed command and control exercise Ulchi Freedom Guardian, according to South Korean news outlet Yonhap News. The threat follows almost immediately after U.S. officials and UN nuclear watchdog the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) expressed increased concerns about North Korea’s renewed nuclear capacity.

The General Staff of the Korean People’s Army (KPA) made their English-language announcement on the state-run Korean Central News, indicating that America and South Korea (“the nuclear warmongers”) “should bear in mind that if they show the slightest sign of aggression on the inviolable land, seas and air where the sovereignty of the DPRK is exercised, it would turn the stronghold of provocation into a heap of ashes through Korean-style preemptive nuclear strike.”

According to CNN, for once, this may not be an entirely idle threat – in the words of one U.S. official familiar with the situation, North Korea is now a “practical” threat and not a “potential” threat, and the U.S. is now working on the assumption that North Korea has achieved warhead miniaturization, a necessity when building nuclear missiles. The IAEA has also, according to The Express, observed that North Korea appears to have reopened the Yongbyon nuclear complex in order to create plutonium out of spent reactor fuel – something the DPRK vowed to do in 2013.

A satellite photo of a steam plume at the Yongbyon nuclear complex indicates that the reactor may be in use. A satellite photo of a steam plume at the Yongbyon nuclear complex indicates that the reactor may be in use. [Photo by Images]Meanwhile, new satellite images from 38 North show renewed activity at North Korea’s nuclear test site, including the erection of a giant canopy to hide the site from satellite imagery.

Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling explained the renewed concerns.

“When you have this many tests, you are eventually going to get it right. That’s what concerns me. As soon as they have one test that they could classify as an extreme success, then we are talking a whole different ballgame [in] their potential to threaten other sovereign nations in their area but also potentially parts of the United States.”

North Korea already claims to have conducted a successful hydrogen bomb test underground, after the Korea Meteorological Administration detected an “artificial earthquake” indicative of a bomb test.

The image shows seismic waves emanating from North Korea's primary nuclear test site near Punggye-ri. The image shows seismic waves emanating from North Korea’s primary nuclear test site near Punggye-ri. [Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images]The North Korean statement implied dire consequences for the South Korean and American forces and that they were simply “waiting for a historic chance” to “blow up” the countries they see as tyrants.

“In view of the prevailing grave situation the KPA General Staff solemnly declares upon authorization the following principled stand of the revolutionary armed forces of the DPRK to cope with the U.S. imperialists and the south Korean puppet forces’ reckless moves for a nuclear war against it that have gone beyond the danger line.”

“We once again declare that the revolutionary armed forces of the DPRK with remarkably increased capability for mounting a preemptive nuclear attack of Korean style are waiting for a historic chance to blow up all strongholds of aggression and war and liberate the southern half of Korea.”

The United States has been working recently with South Korea to increase their nuclear strike countermeasures; the installation of a new missile defense system is underway, and Seoul has plans to host a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) unit with the assistance of the US military.

If nothing else, America and South Korea are taking the threat of North Korean nuclear attacks seriously – which is chilling in its implications. In recent tests, North Korea has fired difficult to track mobile and submarine-launched missiles; they have also demonstrated ICBM launches that could potentially reach Alaska.

If North Korea has perfected miniaturized warhead technology, they could well be ready to launch a long-range nuclear strike. We may not have taken their threat seriously before, but now is definitely the time to start.

[Photo by Ahn Young-joon/AP Images, File]