North Korea has threatened to turn Washington and Seoul into “flames and ashes”, warning of an indiscriminate “pre-emptive nuclear strike of justice” in reaction to the start of US-South Korean military drills.
Such threats have been a staple of the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, since he took power after his father’s death in December 2011. But they tend to increase when Washington and Seoul stage what they describe as annual defensive springtime war games.
Pyongyang says the drills, which were set to start on Monday and run to the end of April, are rehearsals for invading.
North Korea’s powerful National Defence Commission threatened strikes against targets in South Korea, US bases in the Pacific and the US mainland, saying its enemies “are working with bloodshot eyes to infringe upon the dignity, sovereignty and vital rights” of the country.
“If we push the buttons to annihilate the enemies even right now, all bases of provocations will be reduced to seas in flames and ashes in a moment,” the statement said.
A pre-emptive, large-scale military strike that would end the authoritarian rule of the Kim dynasty is highly unlikely.
There is also considerable outside debate about whether North Korea is even capable of the kind of strikes it threatens. The country makes progress with each new nuclear test, having staged its fourth in January, but many experts say North Korea’s arsenal may consist only of still-crude nuclear bombs.
There is uncertainty as to whether it has mastered the miniaturisation process needed to mount bombs on warheads and widespread doubt over whether the country has a reliable long-range missile that could deliver such a bomb to the US mainland.
But North Korea’s bellicose rhetoric raises unease in Seoul and the US, not least because of the huge number of troops and weaponry facing off along the world’s most heavily armed border, which is an hour’s drive from the South Korean capital of Seoul and its 10 million residents.