North Korea’s army said Thursday it had “ratified” plans for nuclear strikes on targets in the US, in a dramatic escalation of its belligerent rhetoric as Washington reinforces its missile defences in the Pacific.

A spokesman for the General Staff of the Korean People’s Army said Pyongyang had given the green light to a “merciless operation” against the US in response to its “high-handed hostile policy” towards the regime.

“We formally inform the White House and Pentagon that the ever-escalating US hostile policy toward the DPRK… will be smashed by the strong will of all the united service personnel and people and cutting-edge smaller, lighter and diversified nuclear strike means of the DPRK,” the spokesman said in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.

The statement also said that the US “had better ponder over the prevailing grave situation” as the Korean Peninsula has never been “exposed to such danger of a nuclear war as today,” reports The Nikkei.

The White House swiftly dismissed Pyongyang’s latest threat as “unhelpful and unconstructive”.

“It is yet another offering in a long line of provocative statements that only serve to further isolate North Korea from the rest of the international community and undermine its goal of economic development,” National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden told AFP.