North Korean leader Kim Jong Un convened an enlarged meeting of the eighth Central Military Commission of the Workers’ Party of Korea, North Korean state media reported on Sunday without specifying the date of the meeting.
“The enlarged meeting discussed and decided on important, practical steps to more effectively exercise the country’s war deterrent and use it forcefully and offensively in response to the current situation where war provocation of the US and South Korea are minutely reaching toward a serious red line,” state media said in a Korean-language report. It did not elaborate on the measures.
The outcomes of the military meeting were disclosed one day before South Korea and the US were set to begin their defense-oriented “Freedom Shield” springtime annual exercise on Monday. This year’s Freedom Shield will be staged for 11 days without a weekend break -- the longest consecutive run -- to enable South Korean and US troops to better prepare for real-world scenarios in light of the changing security environment and escalating missile and nuclear threats from North Korea.
“North Korea would determine powerful, offensive practical measures to take tit-for-tat action based on the principle of strength-for-strength during the period of military exercises between South Korea and the US,” said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies, who also noted the connection between the meeting and the recent statement issued on March 7 by the North Korean leader’s powerful sister Kim Yo-jong.
Kim Yo-jong warned that North Korean forces “maintain a constant readiness posture to take appropriate, swift and overwhelming actions at any time” against South Korea and the US.
Yang said that “North Korea would focus on discussing launching various missiles and staging military drills in response to South Korea-US military exercises.”
Experts said North Korea would opt for military options to effectively gain the upper hand on South Korea and the US as the allies have stepped up field training exercises involving US strategic assets to enhance their deterrence and readiness against escalating North Korean threats.
Lim Eul-chul, a professor of North Korean studies at Kyungnam University in Seoul, said “there is a high possibility of North Korea demonstrating its war deterrent in fresh and much more outrageous ways so as not to lose the initiative” on the Korean Peninsula.
“In terms of important practical steps, North Korea is expected to increasingly rely on combat capabilities of nuclear forces such as newly developed strategic and tactical guided weapons that can demonstrate deterrence to the maximum with minimum cost,” Lim said, referring to the latest missile launches as one example.
North Korea fired a salvo of six close-range ballistic missiles, or CRBMs, from the western port city of Nampho toward the West Sea on March 9. This was after South Korea and the US conducted combined aerial drills in early March in South Korean airspace, mobilizing US Air Force’s B-1B strategic bomber; the MQ-9 Reaper, a hunter-killer unmanned aerial vehicle; and the B-52 nuclear-capable strategic bomber.
North Korean state media reported the following day that the country’s Hwasong artillery unit practiced simultaneously striking air bases in South Korean territory with what the country labeled as a “new-type tactical guided weapon.”
Pyongyang is widely expected to dial up its saber-rattling as South Korea and the US are set to revive theater-level field training exercises, or FTXs, after a five-year hiatus. The FTXs, dubbed Warrior Shield, will return to the scale of the now-defunct Foal Eagle exercise.
South Korea and the US have agreed to stage around 20 field training exercises, including large-scale amphibious operations drills, on the occasion of the Freedom Shield exercise.
Washington will also deploy its strategic assets on the Korean Peninsula in line with its commitment to reinforcing US extended deterrence. The allies have discussed staging maritime exercises involving a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, which is one the world’s largest warships, later in the month. South Korea, the US and Japan have also discussed their plan to conduct ballistic missile defense exercises, possibly mobilizing the US Navy’s nuclear-powered submarine armed with Tomahawk subsonic cruise missiles.
Professor Yang forecast that “powerful and aggressive practical steps stated by North Korea would be put into concrete action, especially during the period when US strategic assets are deployed for military exercises with South Korea.”