North Korea warns of nuclear war risk as Japan, US and South Korea increase military ties

Tensions on the Korean peninsula have been heightened by a series of North Korean missile tests

USS Abraham Lincoln, front, and other warships sail in formation during a US-Japan exercise in the Sea of Japan.  AP
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North Korea condemned US, Japanese and South Korean military co-operation on Sunday, claiming that Washington was increasing the risk of nuclear war in East Asia.

The three countries are discussing joint military exercises in the region after North Korean ballistic missile tests, several of which were test-fired towards Japan.

On March 24, North Korea said it had fired a long range intercontinental ballistic missile towards an ocean target more than 1,000 kilometres away, a test that Japanese authorities said landed within the country’s territorial waters, north of the Hokkaido.

Analysts from the Federation of American Scientists say such weapons could be fitted with a nuclear warhead and that North Korea has succeeded in building around 20 nuclear warheads and may have enough highly enriched uranium to produce at least 50.

North Korea has long cited what it calls hostility by the US and its allies as a reason to pursue a nuclear programme. Sunday's statement comes as North Korea’s neighbours say the country is ready for its first nuclear test in five years as part of its provocative run of weapons tests this year.

“The prevailing situation more urgently calls for building up the country’s defence to actively cope with the rapid aggravation of the security environment of the Korean Peninsula and the rest of the world,” the North Korean Foreign Ministry said.

The statement took issue with a trilateral meeting by US, South Korean and Japanese leaders at a Nato summit last week, during which they underscored the need to strengthen their co-operation to deal with the North Korean nuclear threat.

“The chief executives of the US, Japan and South Korea put their heads together for confrontation with [North Korea] and discussed the dangerous joint military countermeasures against it including the launch of tripartite joint military exercises,” the North said.

North Korea views US-led military exercises in the region, particularly ones with rival South Korea, as an invasion rehearsal, though Washington and Seoul have repeatedly said they have no intentions of attacking the North.

During the recent trilateral meeting, US President Joe Biden said he was “deeply concerned” about North Korea’s continued ballistic missile tests and apparent plans to conduct a nuclear test. South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol said the importance of trilateral co-operation had grown in the face of North Korea’s advanced nuclear programme, while Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said joint anti-missile drills would be important to deter North Korean threats.

Earlier last month, the defence chiefs of the US, South Korea and Japan agreed to resume their combined missile warning and tracking exercises as part of their efforts to deal with North Korea’s escalating weapons tests.

North Korean accused the US of exaggerating rumours about North Korean threats “to provide an excuse for attaining military supremacy over the Asia-Pacific region including the Korean Peninsula”.

US officials have said Washington has no hostile intent towards Pyongyang and urged it to return to disarmament talks without any preconditions. North Korea has rejected the US overture, saying it would focus on buttressing its nuclear deterrent unless the US dropped its hostile policies towards the North, an apparent reference to US-led economic sanctions and its regular military training with South Korea.

North Korea claimed the recent Nato summit proves an alleged US plan to contain Russia and China by achieving the “militarisation of Europe” and forming a Nato-like alliance in Asia. It said “the reckless military moves of the US and its vassal forces” could lead to dangerous consequences like a nuclear war simultaneously taking place in both Europe and Asia-Pacific.

Pyongyang has often released similar warlike rhetoric and warned of the danger of nuclear war in times of heightened animosities with Washington and Seoul.

Updated: July 03, 2022, 6:38 AM