SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea has warned that it might launch a "pre-emptive nuclear strike of justice" on the U.S. and Seoul.
The threat came on Monday, in reaction to the start of huge U.S.-South Korean military drills that were set to start on the same day.
Such threats have been a staple of young North Korean leader Kim Jong Un since he took power after his dictator father's death in December 2011. But they spike especially when Washington and Seoul stage what they call annual defensive springtime war games. Pyongyang says the drills, which were set to start Monday and run through the end of April, are invasion rehearsals.
The North's powerful National Defense Commission threatened strikes against targets in the South, U.S. bases in the Pacific and the U.S. mainland, saying its enemies "are working with bloodshot eyes to infringe upon the dignity, sovereignty and vital rights" of North Korea.
"If we push the buttons to annihilate the enemies even right now, all bases of provocations will be reduced to seas in flames and ashes in a moment," the North's statement said.
A pre-emptive large-scale military strike that would end the authoritarian rule of the Kim dynasty is highly unlikely. There is also considerable outside debate about whether North Korea is even capable of the kind of "strikes" it threatens. The North makes progress with each new nuclear test — it staged its fourth in January — but many experts say its arsenal may consist only of still-crude nuclear bombs; there's uncertainty about whether they've mastered the miniaturization process needed to mount bombs on warheads and widespread doubt about whether they have a reliable long-range missile that could deliver such a bomb to the U.S. mainland.
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