South Korea plans to hold its “largest-ever” live-fire drills with the US in a move certain to anger North Korea, which has ramped up its provocations to new levels in response to recent military exercises, according to Bloomberg.
The joint drills, which will involve mobilizing high-tech military equipment, are planned for June as part of a program to mark the 70th anniversary of the alliance between South Korea and the US, South Korea’s defense ministry said in a statement Wednesday.
“The program is designed to showcase the ability of the two nations to materialize peace through strength via action, amid stern security situations arising from North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats,” the statement said.
South Korea and the US this week are winding down one of their largest joint training drills in years. North Korea has responded with threats to turn the Pacific Ocean into a firing range and shot off weapons that included a missile designed to strike the US with a nuclear bomb, new missiles to hit US military bases in South Korea and a test of a mock nuclear warhead affixed to a missile.
The joint drills had been scaled down or halted under former President Donald Trump, who was hoping the move would facilitate his nuclear negotiations with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Those talks led to no concrete steps to wind down Kim’s nuclear arsenal, which only grew larger as the talks sputtered.
The live-fire drills are also expected to draw attention from neighboring countries, including China. The country’s Foreign Ministry has said Beijing has been watching the situation on the Korean Peninsula with concern — and blamed the US for stoking tensions.
North Korea, which has fired 13 ballistic missiles since February 18, has for years called joint drills a prelude to an invasion and nuclear war. The US and South Korea in January announced plans to step up the scale of their joint military exercises. Japan, which North Korea regards as mortal enemy, has also joined some of the drills in recent months.
In its latest provocation, North Korea fired multiple cruise missiles Wednesday, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement, adding US intelligence officials along with those from Seoul were conducting a thorough analysis.
There are no United Nations resolutions that bar North Korea from testing cruise missiles. Pyongyang has shot off several of these type of missiles in recent months, with ranges long enough to hit all US military bases in Japan. In March, it fired two cruise missiles from a submarine, in an unprecedented test from Kim’s regime.
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol went to Japan last week for a summit with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to repair ties and improve security cooperation between the two countries — a move aligning with the Biden administration’s strategy in the region for countering security threats from the likes of North Korea and China.