North Korea asserted on Friday that it had successfully tested an underwater nuclear weapons system in response to joint naval drills by the United States, South Korea, and Japan. According to North Korean state media, the military conducted a new test of its underwater nuclear-capable drone, the Haeil, off the southern end of the peninsula, characterizing the US-led exercises as “frantic” and “provocative.” Last year, North Korea claimed the Haeil system could carry a nuclear warhead capable of generating a “radioactive tsunami,” although no proof was provided at the time.
The latest test results were not presented by North Korean state media on Friday, but a warning was issued to the US, South Korea, and Japan about the “catastrophic consequences” of their actions. The Korea Central News Agency (KCNA) report stated, “The armed forces of (North Korea) will strike horror into their hearts through responsible, prompt, and bold exercise of its deterrent.”
The US-led trilateral naval exercises, involving the USS Carl Vinson, JS Hyūga, and guided-missile-equipped surface ships, aimed to enhance deterrence and response capabilities to North Korea’s threats. South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff highlighted the commitment to regional security and stability in the Indo-Pacific. Pyongyang condemned the exercises as a serious threat to its security, aggravating the regional situation.
Tensions on the Korean Peninsula escalated since late December when North Korean leader Kim Jong Un directed the acceleration of war preparations in response to perceived US moves. Kim declared that North Korea would no longer seek reconciliation with South Korea, emphasizing that a monument to possible reunification in Pyongyang, constructed by his father, should be destroyed. The two Koreas have been technically at war since the Korean War ended in 1953, with tensions escalating in recent years due to North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.
In the past month, North Korea has intensified military activities, including firing artillery rounds near a disputed border and testing a ballistic missile with a hypersonic glide vehicle. Kim labeled South Korea as the North’s “primary foe and invariable principal enemy.” Analysts see these developments as indications of a more entrenched and intractable North Korea, emphasizing regime survival and ideological considerations.