North Korea Throws Down Gauntlet to US and Allies

Kim Yo Jong, the powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, said on Wednesday that her country would press on with its “overwhelming” military buildup in response to frequent U.S. military drills with the South.

Kim Yo Jong, 36, listed a series of U.S. and allied war games held in the areas around North Korea since last year, exercises she said have “plunged [inter-Korean relations] deeper into a dangerous vortex,” according to a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

Regional tensions were “like a kindled detonating fuse,” she said.

South Korea hosts about 28,500 American forces, whose decades-long presence is meant to deter the North from repeating the adventurism that had sparked the Korean War in the early 1950s.

Longtime watchers of Kim Jong Un’s regime believe the 40-year-old strongman may attempt a limited conflict in 2024 to extract concessions from the U.S. in a presidential election year.

“Entering this year, the U.S. has staged more than 80 rounds of military drills with its lackeys and those individually staged by the ROK puppets total more than 60,” Kim Yo Yong said, using the South’s formal name, the Republic of Korea. “This evidently shows who the arch criminals straining the regional situation are.”

“We will continue to build up our overwhelming and most powerful military muscle to defend our sovereignty and security and regional peace,” said Kim Yo Jong, who is deputy spokesperson of the Workers’ Party in Pyongyang. “No one can break our determination.”

The North Korean Embassy in Beijing did not immediately respond to a written request for comment.

Pyongyang recently said it had successfully tested a new “super-large warhead” for its nuclear-tipped cruise missiles.

U.S. and South Korean forces also are in the middle of their largest annual combined air drills, a two-week exercise that will run until Friday, this year involving more than 100 aircraft.

US and South Korea Hold Air Drills
South Korean air force KF-16 Fighting Falcons on April 12, 2024, at Kunsan Air Base in the western part of the country. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s sister has said Pyongyang would press on…

Staff Sgt. Samuel Earick/U.S. Air Force

Later on Wednesday, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol challenged his country’s armed forces to maintain a high level of readiness, “so that North Korea does not dare challenge us at a time when the security situation is more serious than ever,” according to the Yonhap news agency’s translation of a presidential office statement.

The North Korean government was criticized by the U.S. and its allies South Korea and Japan earlier this week after Kim Jong Un oversaw a weapons demonstration, during which multiple rockets were fired into the peninsula’s eastern waters. KCNA later said it was a test of the country’s “nuclear trigger” management system, which is meant to be activated before a counterattack with strategic arms.

Separately on Wednesday, the North Korean Foreign Ministry hit back at Washington and its allies for condemning Pyongyang’s missile exercise, saying in a KCNA release that it was “a legitimate exercise of the right to self-defense to deter the outbreak of a war.”

“We resolutely oppose the U.S. behavior of forming exclusive military blocs and pursuing inter-camp confrontation to violate strategic security of other countries, seized by the Cold War way of thinking,” the ministry’s statement read.

On Tuesday, South Korea’s national police agency said that state-backed hackers linked to the North had for years mounted an “all-out” cyberattack on its defense companies, stealing sensitive technical data in the process.