Rising tensions between North and South Korea ahead of U.S. military exercises on the Korean Peninsula next week have provoked a war — although one of words for the time being.
South Korean army Gen. Kim Yong-hyun on Wednesday hit back at North Korea’s threat this week to scrap the 60-year-old cease-fire that halted the Korean War, initiating an uneasy peace but leaving the democratic South and the communist North in a technical state of hostilities.
“If North Korea conducts any provocations that threaten the life and safety of South Koreans, then it should be clear there will be strong and decisive punishment, not only against the source of the aggression and its support forces, but also the commanding element,” Gen. Kim told a news conference at Seoul’s Defense Ministry.
The North Korean saber-rattling on Tuesday was a reaction to next week’s joint U.S.-Korean military exercises, code-named Foal Eagle, a set of 20 separate but related field-training exercises.
They will include “ground, air, naval, expeditionary and special operations” forces, according to a statement from U.S. Forces-Korea.
About 10,000 U.S. troops will participate in Foal Eagle, most from outside South Korea. As many as 200,000 South Korean troops traditionally participate in one or more elements of Foal Eagle.
The exercises are held annually, and this year they are designed to test the capabilities of the South Korean military’s command structure, which is scheduled to take over command of the joint U.S.-Korean force in South Korea in 2015.
The U.N. commission that monitors the cease-fire last month notified the North Korean military about Foal Eagle and another multinational exercise last week known as Key Resolve.
“The North had already received notice that South Korea-U.S. drills are defensive in nature,” Gen. Kim said.
Further details emerged Wednesday about North Korea’s threat, which was made by Gen. Kim Yong-chol, a notably hard-line North Korean military leader.
The North Korean general is director of the Korean People’s Army General Reconnaissance Bureau — the North Korean military element that conducts strategic military intelligence and elite special forces missions against South Korea, according to veteran defense intelligence analyst John McCreary.
The bureau “operates an English-language school for North Korean spies,” Mr. McCreary wrote in his Nightwatch daily e-letter.
Gen. Kim read the bellicose statement on North Korean television in what Mr. McCreary described as an unusual and significant action for a full general, who acted essentially as a spokesman for the North Korean military.
Mr. McCreary added that the threat to ditch the armistice had credibility because it listed specific actions that the North will take Monday, such as stopping regular meetings in the Demilitarized Zone between the two countries and cutting the direct hotline “which is often critical for crisis management.”
He said disavowing the truce was part of North Korean hereditary leader Kim Jong-il’s strategy to force the United States to negotiate directly with his pariah regime.