The North Korean government announced on Monday that it had conducted a “simulation” of a nuclear attack against the South over the weekend—a development that raises inter-Korean tensions as Pyongyang prepares to conduct its first nuclear test in five years.
The North Korean simulated attack—announced by the country’s state-run Korean Central News Agency, or KCNA—comes after a series of missile launches from its east coast. The recent launches, totaling seven sets of missiles, roughly coincided with American vice president Kamala Harris’s visit to South Korea and a series of U.S.-South Korean naval exercises off the Korean coast involving the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier.
The KCNA report provided details on the exercise, which outside sources could not observe. It claimed that Korean People’s Army (KPA) soldiers had practiced loading dummy versions of the country’s nuclear warheads onto short-range missiles for use on the battlefield, which were then simulated attacking South Korean military bases and other critical infrastructure such as airports and seaports. The report included photographs of North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong-un “overseeing” the exercises.
The South Korean government criticized the exercises, with President Yoon Suk-yeol claiming that Pyongyang was “threatening not only the Republic of Korea but the world,” using South Korea’s official name.
“I believe [North Korea] has nothing to gain from nuclear weapons,” Yoon added—indirectly referencing a previous diplomatic effort he had made in which he proposed an exchange of substantial development aid for North Korea’s nuclear arsenal. The North Korean government rejected that offer at the time and has since enshrined its nuclear capabilities into law, labeling them “irreversible” and cutting off future negotiations. At the same time, it repealed its “no first use” nuclear weapon policy, allowing it to conduct a preemptive strike against South Korea or the United States.
North Korea has launched more than forty missiles since the beginning of the year from a variety of platforms, including both stationary silos and moving vehicles, which would be harder to preemptively destroy in the event of a conflict. In one of its most recent tests, it fired a ballistic missile over the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, leading residents on the ground to take shelter. Japan’s foreign ministry harshly condemned that launch, describing it as a violation of international law and Japanese sovereignty.
Trevor Filseth is a current and foreign affairs writer for the National Interest.