Pyongyang accused the US military of conducting provocative surveillance flights which infringe on its airspace and trespass in its exclusive economic zone on Monday. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) admonished Washington that if such provocations persist, American reconnaissance planes may be shot down.
This comes amid soaring tensions on the Korean peninsula largely as a result of massive joint US-South Korean war games which have seen the White House deploy aircraft carriers, nuclear capable bombers, and Reaper drones.
Kim Yo Jong, the sister of DPRK leader Kim Jong Un as well as one of his top foreign policy officials, said North Korean warplanes scrambled to intercept a US spy plane flying in Pyongyang’s exclusive economic zone where it controls natural resources. This includes the area within 200 nautical miles of its territory, she insisted there were eight such intrusions on Monday.
Denouncing the intensifying sorties by the American aircraft as encroaching on her country’s sovereignty, Kim issued a warning that US forces would “experience a very critical fight” if these aggressive actions continue.
“A shocking incident would occur in the long run in the 20-40 kilometer [12-25 nautical miles] section in which the U.S. spy planes habitually intrude into the sky above the economic water zone” of the DPRK, she declared.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff denied Washington was flying spy planes into North Korean territory, with a spokesperson explaining the US is instead, in the areas surrounding the peninsula, “conducting standard reconnaissance activities.” In response, Kim fired back that the Joint Chiefs of Staff was acting as if they were the Pentagon’s “spokesperson.”
An earlier statement by North Korea’s Defense Ministry stated that the US was flying its reconnaissance planes within the country’s “inviolable airspace,” which extends 12 nautical miles, from the coast, per international law. The ministry also charged that US actions were raising the risk of nuclear conflict on the peninsula, pointing to the White House’s pledge that the Washington will periodically dock nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarines in South Korea, while also citing the ongoing presence of American spy planes and drones. “There is no guarantee that such a shocking accident as the downing of the U.S. Air Force strategic reconnaissance plane will not happen,” the statement alerted.
The Pentagon dismissed Pyongyang’s allegations and stern words, with spokesperson Sabrina Singh saying “so those accusations are just accusations.” State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller implored the DPRK “to refrain from escalatory actions,” and emphasized the DPRK should “engage in serious and sustained diplomacy.”
Miller previously told a news briefing that Washington is willing to talk with Pyongyang without preconditions, painting the DPRK as recalcitrant.
North Korean state media described the US sending nuclear assets to the peninsula as “the most undisguised nuclear blackmail” against Pyongyang as well as its neighbors. Last month, an American B-52 strategic bomber participated in joint air military drills with Seoul.
After a multi-year pause, President Joe Biden’s administration resumed large-scale war games targeting the DPRK. Consequently, since 2022, Pyongyang has launched more than 100 missiles.
In March, Washington and Seoul carried out their largest live-fire field exercises in five years, the drills were dubbed “Foal Eagle.” Concurrently, for the first time, the Pentagon sent MQ-9 Reaper armed drones to the Korean Peninsula.
As part of the giant joint military exercises this year, Washington and Seoul more recently carried out the largest war drills in the history of their seven decade alliance. Some of these drills have even taken place near the border with the demilitarized zone (DMZ).
Last year, Washington, Tokyo, and Seoul entered a trilateral defense agreement eyeing Pyongyang and Beijing. At the time, North Korea referred to this pact as an “Asian version of NATO.” In Vilnius, Yoon Suk Yeol, the president of South Korea, will be attending this week’s NATO summit. Yoon’s office has explained that he will be attempting to more deeply involve the bloc in countering the alleged North Korean nuclear threat.
However, in June, it was revealed that the US intelligence community has concluded Pyongyang will continue to use its “nuclear weapons status” only as a way of coercively accomplishing some political and diplomatic objectives, not for offensive military purposes.
Compared with Donald Trump, President Joe Biden has taken a vastly more bellicose policy regarding the DPRK. In the last half of the Trump administration, war games were rolled back, dialog was opened, and all sides reduced weapons tests. As crippling sanctions are imposed indefinitely – despite Miller’s claim – Biden has offered Pyongyang no off ramp. The administration is demanding Kim agree to his country’s denuclearization and disarmament. The current status quo has North Korea facing myriad regime change rehearsals on the DPRK’s doorstep, while US officials periodically threaten the country with obliteration.