South Korea announces fresh drills with US and dubs North’s rising missile tests as ‘serious threat’

File. A woman watches a television screen showing a news broadcast with file footage of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, at a railway station in Seoul on 31 December 2022 after North Korea fired three short-range ballistic missiles according to South Korea's military (AFP via Getty Images)

South Korea’s president has warned against the “serious threat” from North Korea over the latter’s unprecedented missile launches that he said could hold the risk of a dangerous “miscalculation” between the nations involved.

Yoon Suk-yeol called for closer security cooperation with the US and Japan against the “dangerous situation” posed by the Kim Jong-un regime, reported the Associated Press.

“We’ve seen a miscalculation leading to serious wars many times in history,” he said, adding that the North’s advancing nuclear arsenal poses a direct threat to the US mainland as well as South Korea and nearby Japan.

Throughout 2022, North Korea carried out a record number of missile tests, sometimes more than a dozen in a day and test firing intercontinental ballistic missiles that can target the US mainland.

The tests have caused concern in the region amid speculation that Pryongyang is preparing for a fresh nuclear missile test launch, contradicting UN sanctions.

This comes as South Korea and the US are set to gather for “tabletop exercises” next month to counter the North’s nuclear threats, said South Korean defence minister Lee Jong-sup.

“We’re planning to hold tabletop exercises in February between defence officials on operating means of extended deterrence under the scenario of North Korea’s nuclear attacks," he said in a news conference.

Washington and Seoul said they are in talks to improve joint nuclear planning and implementation, boost information sharing and launch the exercises, but the timing had not yet been finalised.

The US and South Korean officials are anticipating that the North could be preparing for its first test of a nuclear device since 2017.

“North Korea could have its own internal reasons, but there’s no way for our country or any other country to know exactly why they are conducting such provocations,” Mr Yoon said.

He added: “These unlawful North Korean provocations can only result in the strengthening of security response capabilities and a further strengthening of the security cooperation between South Korea, the United States and Japan.”

The South Korean president also confirmed the military drills aimed at bolstering the nuclear preparedness of both allies.

The proposed plans include “tabletop exercises, computer simulations and drills... on delivery means for nuclear weapons,” Mr Yoon said.

He added that it is justified for the US and South Korea to huddle for discussions over the “so-called joint planning and joint execution” as both the nations are “exposed to the North Korean nuclear threat”.

In late December, North Korea violated South Korean airspace by flying drones across the border into foreign territory for the first time in five years, ratcheting up tensions as 2022 came to an end.

In response, South Korea fired warning shots, scrambled jets and flew its own surveillance equipment over the border.

Mr Kim also ordered the “exponential” expansion of his nuclear arsenal this year, considered to be critical amid speculation that it is developing a more powerful intercontinental ballistic missile.

However, some experts have pointed out that North Korea’s robust testing spree could largely be aimed at modernising an arsenal that it would ultimately want to use as leverage in future dealings with the US to clinch sanction relief and other concessions.