- North Korea and South Korea both held military drills on Tuesday
- Artillery drills are a reminder of Seoul’s vulnerability if North Korea attacked, analyst says
A statement from the South Korean military said the live-fire exercises were underway in the Wonsan region in the east of the country Tuesday afternoon, but gave no details on what kinds of weapons and military units took part in the drill.
In a statement from the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff, South Korea said it was monitoring the situation and remained “firmly prepared.”
“Our military is closely monitoring the North Korean military’s movements,” said the statement.
Military exercises such as the one undertaken by North Korea are not unprecedented and it was always likely there would have been a show of military force on Armed Forces Day. This year is the 85th anniversary of the founding of North Korean army.
But the timing, as the US increases its military presence in the area, allows North Korea to remind its opponents that it could cause crippling damage with conventional artillery to highly populated areas in South Korea.
In a statement after the artillery drills were confirmed, the South Korean President’s Office said an emergency meeting had been held to discuss the situation.
Separately, envoys from South Korea, Japan and the US have been meeting in Tokyo to discuss North Korea’s refusal to abandon its nuclear program.
North Korea’s drills coincided with military exercises held by US and South Korean navies in the Yellow Sea, off the western coast of the Korean Peninsula.
The drills were held as the country commemorated the 85th anniversary of the founding of North Korean army, a significant date in the country’s calendar.
Message to Seoul?
Alex Neill, a senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies Asia, told CNN the artillery drill was likely to be a message to Seoul.
“It’s important for the DPRK to remind the South that very large swathes of the South Korean population are within artillery range of the North,” he said, using the official name for North Korea.
“So it is a sign that if the North is provoked or there is preemptive action, then a lot of Seoul and its suburbs would be within artillery range of the North.”
Neill said nuclear and chemical weapons could also be delivered via artillery strikes.
“As (North Korea has) one of the largest stockpiles of chemical weapons, again artillery can be used for that. Sarin gas doesn’t have to be dropped,” he said.
Trump: North Korea is ‘a real threat’
Relations between North Korea and the US and South Korea have deteriorated in recent months, as the rhetoric and military posturing on both sides has increased.
Fears have also mounted in recent weeks that North Korea could soon conduct a sixth nuclear test or another missile launch.