US-South Korea drills could lead to ‘uncontrollable phase of nuclear war,’ North warns

Pyongyang has described the US-South Korea annual military drills, set to kick off on Monday, as the “most explicit expression of hostility,” voicing fears that the war games, known as the Ulchi Freedom Guardian, may “evolve into actual fighting.”

Some 40,000 American and South Korean troops as well as civilians, training civil defense response, will participate in the exercises. 

The ‘Ulchi-Freedom Guardian’ drills are designed to “enhance readiness, protect the region and maintain stability on the Korean Peninsula,” the US State Department said on Friday. 

“The joint exercise is the most explicit expression of hostility against us, and no one can guarantee that the exercise won't evolve into actual fighting,” an editorial in the Rodong Sinmun, the North's official newspaper, said on Sunday, South Korea's Yonhap News Agency reported.

“If the United States is lost in a fantasy that war on the peninsula is at somebody else's door far away from them across the Pacific, it is far more mistaken than ever,” it noted, adding that Washington will be “adding fuel to the fire” by moving ahead with the exercises.

“The Trump group's declaration of the reckless nuclear war exercises against the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] ... is a reckless behavior driving the situation into the uncontrollable phase of a nuclear war,” the editorial went on to say, as cited by CNN.

“The US should pay heed to the statement of the DPRK government that we would not rule out the use of any final means,” Rodong Sinmun warned in another article, published on Wednesday. 

“Reckless and wild acts of the US can accelerate its final ruin,” it concluded.

The Ulchi-Freedom Guardian exercises are held annually, with North Korea saying the drills are nothing but preparation for war. The 2017 wargames, scheduled to take place between August 21 and 31, were planned before the outbreak of the current crisis and won’t be rescheduled, military officials in the South Korean capital, Seoul, told AP last week. 

US President Donald Trump added that he hopes that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un “will find another path.” 

Trump’s comments came a day after US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said that Washington and its allies “now possess the most precise, rehearsed and robust defensive and offensive capabilities on Earth.” 

“The DPRK regime’s actions will continue to be grossly overmatched by ours and would lose any arms race or conflict it initiates,” he noted.

North Korea's declaration of its readiness to use nuclear weapons in the face of what it sees as an existential threat does not mean Pyongyang is willing to start a nuclear war, Emeritus Professor of Political Theory at King's College, Cambridge, John Dunn has told RT.

"I don't think that North Korea wants to risk a nuclear war. I mean it would have to be crazy to do so and it is actually not at all crazy," Dunn said.

However, the professor pointed out that the threat to use such weapons should not be taken for granted.

"You should never think of [a] declared intention to use what could be nuclear-armed weapons as an empty threat, because it is possible to use them, and they have been used before. And if they are used the results are absolutely appalling."

Tensions in the region show no sign of abating, escalating following a new round of UN sanctions against North Korea earlier in August, in response to fresh missile tests by Pyongyang.

In July, North Korea claimed to have test-fired two intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM). Russia, however, said that the missiles were intermediate range. In response to the tests, the US and South Korea repeatedly fired surface-to-surface missiles into neutral waters close to Pyongyang.