North Korea has threatened a preemptive nuclear strike as the U.S. and South Korean forces began their largest joint military exercises ever.
The yearly military drills often increase tensions between North and South Korea. This year, tensions are especially high after the U.N. Security Council approved new sanctions on North Korea. The sanctions are in response to the North’s recent nuclear and long-range rocket tests.
Key Resolve and Foal Eagle drills much larger this year
The joint military exercises are known as Key Resolve and Foal Eagle. The drills involve 17,000 American troops. That is four times the number that took part last year. Three hundred thousand South Korean troops joined the drills. Many U.S. aircraft and naval ships are also involved. These include the nuclear-powered submarine, the USS North Carolina, and the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the USS John C. Stennis.
North Korea’s National Defense Commission denounced the military exercises in a statement. It said North Korea was prepared for a "sacred war of justice for reunification.”
In the statement, the commission said the military exercises were aimed at harming “the sovereignty” of the North.
South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Moon Sang-kyun called the North Korean threat “unacceptable.”
The U.S. and South Korea said the joint drills are defensive in nature. This year, the two allies reportedly will practice carrying out preemptive military strikes against North Korean targets.
Communication lines not in place
North Korea’s recent tests have resulted in an increase in the potential for inter-Korean conflict.
In response, the South Korean government in Seoul closed the Kaesong Industrial Complex that it jointly operated with the North.
North Korea then deported all South Koreans who were working at the Kaesong center. It also cut an emergency communication hotline put in place to avoid dangerous military situations.
Daniel Pinkston of Troy University in Seoul said the situation is risky. “If North Korea wants to take some kind of belligerent military action against the South and in some limited way, I think they are running a very high risk of facing some retaliation,” he said.
Philippines seizes vessel
Also, the Philippines has become the first country to enforce the new UN sanctions on North Korea.
The Philippine Coast Guard on Friday detained and searched the Jin Teng, a ship with a crew of 21 North Korean citizens. The search revealed no illicit cargo, only minor safety violations.
However, the Jin Teng has been sanctioned by the U.N. as one of 31 ships owned by Ocean Maritime Management Company. The company is based in North Korea’s capital Pyonyang. It has been targeted for suspected involvement in trading arms in the past.
Brian Padden reported this story from Seoul. Mario Ritter adapted it for VOA Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.
Words in This Story
Preemptive –adj. done to prevent an unwanted act by another group, country, or force
Drill –n. an exercise done to practice military skills or activities
Vessel –n. a ship or large boat
Sovereignty –n. a country’s independent authority and the right to govern itself
Potential –n. capable of becoming real
Retaliation –n. to take action against someone, group or country to answer to some kind of attack