United States and South Korea conduct military drills

"The rhetoric out of North Korea regarding the exercise is similar to what they have done in the past and continue to do with each joint exercise between South Korea, the United States and its allies", according to a statement from the Offices of Guam Homeland Security and Civil Defense on Monday. The state-run Korean Central News Agency this week called them "reckless saber-rattling" and warned that they could spark an accidental war.

Meanwhile, North Korea's propaganda website Uriminzokkiri said in a commentary that the US and South Korea are staging an exercise to try to wage a nuclear war around the Korean Peninsula, warning, "the North Korean army is placing the South Korean military in its crosshairs".

The Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercise will begin on Monday and will conclude on August 31.

Joint exercises happen twice a year - once in March, again in August. For the regime led by Kim Jong Un, the "defense exercises" are a preparation for invasion.

North Korea has warned the U.S. it will be "pouring gasoline on fire" if they carry out drills with its long term foe South Korea. The number of troops involved is because of the focus of this year's exercise - command and control - and not in response to any factor from North Korea, he explained.

"North Korea should never distort our efforts to maintain peace and use them to justify any provocative action to worsen the situation".

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Analysts have said all eyes will be on the war game that could send tensions spiralling back upwards after the war of words between the United States and North Korea appeared to have cooled off slightly. These include 50,000 South Korean soldiers and almost 17,500 USA soldiers. However, the US and South Korea maintain they are purely defensive. They could be reduced if North Korea were to pursue denuclearization and cease ballistic missile tests, he said.

North Korea claims it has successfully miniaturized a nuclear weapon.

China and Russian Federation have also called for the suspension of the joint military drills along with a freeze on North Korean missile and nuclear tests.

The exercise is defensive in nature, Mattis said, noting that joint exercises have been going on for decades. US officials have pledged the military exercises will go ahead this week as planned.

Some political analysts suggest Washington seems to have responded to Pyongyang's recent restraint by downsizing this year's exercises, sending less personnel, and holding back nuclear capable bombers and other strategic assets. "And had Pyongyang halted testing in 2015, Washington wouldn't be facing the imminent threat of a North Korean ICBM today".

  • Megan Austin