On February 17, North Korea threatened “unprecedently” strong action after South Korea announced a series of military drills with United States.
The response comes after, South Korea’s deputy minister of national defense policy, Heo Tae-keun announced that the United States and South Korea will commence the annual computer-simulated combined training in mid-March which will focus on North Korea’s nuclear threats and also unspecified lessons from the Russia-Ukraine War. The computer simulation was to be followed by joint field exercises in mid-March.
Reacting almost immediately Reuters reported that on February 18, North Korea launched a long-range ballistic missile into the sea off Japan's west coast which Japanese authorities indicated fell in Japan's exclusive economic zone.
As the landing occurred a hour after launch, it suggested a possible ICBM test with a shorter range trajectory, thus sending a powerful signal to the US and allies South Korea and Japan.
North Korea had halted weapons testing activities for some time in 2023 and the last test firing occurred on January 1. Over 70 missiles were launched in 2022 which is a record number for a single year.
In September 2022, North Korea promulgated a law of the Supreme People's Assembly of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea [DPRK] the official name of the country proclaiming as a State with Nuclear Weapons. The Mission of Nuclear Forces was specified as, “be a main force of the state defence which safeguards the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country and the lives and safety of the people from outside military threat, aggression and attack”.
The main mission is, “to deter a war by making hostile forces have a clear understanding of the fact that the military confrontation with the DPRK brings about ruin and give up attempts at aggression and attack”.
The conditions for the use of nuclear weapons were specified as follows:-
1. In case an attack by nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction was launched or drew near is judged
2. In case a nuclear or non-nuclear attack by hostile forces on the state leadership and the command organization of the state's nuclear forces was launched or drew near is judged
3. In case a fatal military attack against important strategic objects of the state was launched or drew near is judged
4. In case the need for operation for preventing the expansion and protraction of a war and taking the initiative in the war in contingency is inevitably raised.
5. In other case an inevitable situation in which it is compelled to correspond with catastrophic crisis to the existence of the state and safety of the people by only nuclear weapons is created.
The Year 2023 is thus likely to be marked by the action-reaction of exercises by US and South Korea and response by North Korea in terms of testing and firing of various types of missiles, nuclear preparations and so on. This is a high risk scenario against the backdrop of War in Ukraine and tensions in US and China relations, thus the Korean Peninsula needs to be kept under a close watch for possible escalation.