The start of the two-week “Key Resolve” exercise follows a week of escalating tensions on the Korean peninsula, with North Korea threatening nuclear war over U.N. sanctions adopted after its third atomic test last month. Pyongyang has condemned the annual joint maneuvers as a provocative invasion rehearsal and announced that it was scrapping the 1953 armistice and voiding non-aggression treaties signed with the South. The South’s Unification Ministry confirmed that the North appeared to have carried through on another promise to cut the hotline between Pyongyang and Seoul. “The North did not answer our call this morning,” a ministry spokeswoman said. The hotline was installed in 1971 and the North has severed it on five occasions in the past, most recently in 2010. Rodong Sinmun, the newspaper of the North’s ruling communist party, confirmed in yesterday’s edition the “complete end” of the Korean War armistice. “With the ceasefire agreement blown apart... no one can predict what will happen from now on,” the newspaper said.
Sabre-rattling and displays of brinkmanship are nothing new in the region, but there are concerns that the current situation is so volatile that one accidental step could escalate into serious confrontation and conflict.
Having issued so many dire warnings, the North will feel obliged to take some provocative action, observers say.