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A spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the 60-year-old truce between the Koreas is still valid and in force and that neither side can end it unilaterally.

Mr. Ban urged North Korea “to continue to respect the terms of the armistice agreement as it was approved by the General Assembly,” spokesman Martin Nesirky said.

A state-run newspaper in North Korea reported that the regime had voided the cease-fire, but Pyongyang did not officially announce it had done so.

‘Not over my dead body’

Mr. Lee of the Fletcher School said North Korea typically has ratcheted up its rhetoric with a view to eventually receive bigger concessions.

“We know North Korea is not suicidal, so there is no danger of an all-out war,” he said. “[But] a confluence of various factors makes a North Korean attack highly likely.”

Such factors include leadership transitions across North Asia, including in Seoul, Tokyo and Beijing this month.

“These leaders have a strong incentive to downplay foreign policy crises because they are preoccupied with domestic issues, and that creates an appeasement-prone environment, which is very much in North Korea’s favor,” Mr. Lee said.

Analysts cite the absence of any visible movement of North Korean troops as evidence that Pyongyang is reluctant to ignite an all-out war.

Patrick Cronin, senior director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program, at the Center for a New American Security, said North Korea is “betting on the fact that the U.S., South Korea, China and other countries will lighten up the pressure out of fear that tensions will escalate.”

Pyongyang says its angry response is a reaction to U.S.-South Korean military exercises in the region and U.N. sanctions imposed in response to its Feb. 12 nuclear test. The 11-day U.S.-South Korea war games started Monday.

The U.S. and South Korea have been conducting joint military exercises since 1976.

Nonetheless, South Koreans are worried by the North’s provocations. A survey by the Asan Institute for Policy Studies found that more than 63 percent of South Korean respondents feel insecure after North Korea’s nuclear test.

Mr. Cha also worries about the potential for an inadvertent escalation of hostilities on the peninsula.

“Many times war starts with miscalculation,” he said. “What you don’t want is a combination of a young, rambunctious North Korean leader who thinks he can provoke this paper tiger in the south, not expecting a South Korean response, while you have a new president in South Korea who says, ‘Not over my dead body.’”