Conflict & Justice

US stealth bombers fly over South Korea in joint military exercises


A South Korean soldier looks through the scope of a K-4 automatic grenade launcher at a check point during a drill near border in Paju on March 28.


Kim Jae-hwan

SEOUL, South Korea — Two US B-2 stealth bombers participating in South Korean-US military exercises flew round trip from Whiteman Air Force base in Missouri to South Korea and dropped dummy ordnance on targets there, the US military announced Thursday.

"This ... demonstrates the United States' ability to conduct long-range, precision strikes quickly and at will," the US military said in a statement.

The deployment of the stealth bombers was meant to deliver a potent message to Pyongyang about the US commitment to defending South Korea against the North's aggression as military tensions on the Korean Peninsula soar, with US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warning Thursday that "bellicose" activity from the North will be taken seriously. 

North Korea's nuclear capability allows for no hesitation, he said, with USA Today quoting him as saying: "You only need to be wrong once."

But the talk in Seoul is different. Analysts here say North Korea's government uses US-led military exercises as a propaganda tool, demonstrating to its people that their state of emergency is needed to protect the nation.

It's highly likely that, Friday morning, the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) will publish an article calling the Americans aggressors on the peninsula, just as they have before.

In the North's logic, the Americans are using the South Korean "puppets" — in the North regime's lingo — as a staging base to launch an invasion of the peninsula. Defectors and expatriates have repeatedly said that many North Koreans believe they are a chosen race that must defend from outside incursions.

In protest against the joint military exercises, which the US and South Korea conduct annually, North Korea said Wednesday it was shutting down the last of its four military hotlines with the South, the New York Times reported. Officials use the hotlines to manage workers and cargo traveling between the South and North Korean border town of Kaesong.

However, in Seoul, skepticism prevails over the North's threats. Every few years, the North has threatened either to close its military hotlines or shut the entire Kaesong Industrial Zone, the joint economic area where the country produces handbags, shoes and clothes for South Korean companies. Car maker Hyundai, for example, is one of the zone's largest investors. Experts in Seoul say these messages should not be believed.

More from GlobalPost: North Korea severs military hotline to South

North Korea previously shut down its military hotlines in March 2009. They reconnected them two weeks later.

Geoffrey Cain contributed reporting from Seoul, South Korea. Follow him on Twitter @geoffrey_cain. Agence France-Presse contributed to this report.