ROK, US start joint drills
North Korea threatens ‘all-out war on final order’
By Kim Tae-gyu
North Korea is intensifying its threat to attack Washington with nuclear weapons as South Korea and the United States start their annual Key Resolve exercise today.
Already angered by U.N. sanctions last week in response to its Feb. 12 nuclear test, Pyongyang is threatening provocative action and has vowed to scrap the armistice that ended the Korean War (1950-53), in time with the launch of the drill.
The Stalinist regime’s Rodong Sinmun said Sunday its forward-based and strategic forces were waiting for a final order to strike to turn the strongholds of its enemies into a “sea of fire.”
"Our front-line military groups and anti-aircraft and rocket units are awaiting the final order to strike," the Rodong Sinmun reported. “Our nuclear arms are also prepared for combat.”
Of particular concern is the recent severance of a military hotline between the two Koreas according to observers, although the majority does not expect the North will instigate all-out aggression during the 11-day exercise.
“The North is also afraid of Key Resolve involving high-tech weapons and well-trained forces of South Korea and the United States. It would not take military action during the drill,” said Sejong Institute researcher Paik Hak-soon.
“It is worrisome that a small provocation mistakenly made by a local unit may end up as a major conflict because the two Koreas now have no way to contact each other in an emergency.”
In response to the stringent U.N. sanctions agreed to last Thursday in New York (local time), Pyongyang cut the military hot line installed in the truce village of Panmunjeom, further exacerbating tensions on the Korean Peninsula shortly before Key Resolve was set to start.
Key Resolve, previously known as Team Spirit or RSOI, is a computer-simulated exercise that Seoul and Washington say is defensive in nature.
This year, the drill will involve about 10,000 South Korean and some 3,500 U.S. troops, as well as participants from other members of the U.N. Command in Seoul, including Denmark, Australia, Canada, Colombia and the U.K.
Many advanced weapons will be used in the exercise, including F-22 Raptor stealth fighters, B-52 bombers and a U.S. nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.
Prof. Kim Yong-hyun of Dongguk University also thought North Korea’s ruling elite would not behave recklessly during Key Resolve. After the exercise, however, the belligerent regime may take a different strategy, he said.
His rationale is that even though bellicose, North Korea would not pick a fight with a watchful opponent as it carries out a military exercise with the world’s foremost military power.
“Ahead of joint drills by South Korea and the United States, North Korea tends to threaten with torrents of warlike rhetoric but it has never taken military action during the exercises,” Kim said.
“It is expected it will follow the traditional pattern of behavior this time around. But, after Key Resolve, it may resort to provocative measures such as launching short-range missiles in the West Sea in violation of the Northern Limit Line (NLL).”
The NLL is a maritime demarcation line between the two Koreas which the North does not accept. Protracted disputes on the NLL have been a major bone of contention between the Koreas.
Chang Yong-seok at the Seoul National University-affiliated Institute for Peace and Unification Studies said young North Korean leader Kim Jong-un might come up with unexpected actions.
“Basically, I believe that Pyongyang will not proceed with military actions during Key Resolve. That is something of a consensus among watchers,” Chang said.
“But Kim Jong-un’s bold actions after taking power almost completely in a short period of time after his father’s death in late 2011 generate worries. Filled with confidence, it is feared Kim could commit something very aggressive.”
Under the stewardship of Kim, the third of his family line, North Korea conducted rocket and nuclear tests during the past few months against strong warnings from the global community.
This month, the reclusive regime threatened to mount preemptive nuclear strikes on the U.S. and to nullify the non-aggression pact between the two Koreas.
In response, Seoul promised instant retaliation. In the case of a nuclear attack by the North, Seoul said Kim’s regime would disappear.