Pyongyang has accused the U.S. and South Korea of using the ongoing annual joint military exercise Key Resolve/Foal Eagle as preparations to mount a preemptive attack on North Korea. Pyongyang warns that “a war may break out any moment due to the reckless policy of confrontation” pursued by the U.S. and its allies. What has not been mentioned, and is a lost public diplomacy opportunity for Washington and Seoul is that North Korea has also been engaged in its annual Winter Training Cycle. The North Korean exercise typically begins with small unit in-garrison training in December, progressing to field exercises that increase in echelon until March or April when it culminates in corps-level maneuvers, usually involving a mechanized corps.
In its effort to get the U.S. and South Korea to soften its policies, North Korea has brandished threats of “war” more often during the past two months than has been standard even for the normally belligerent regime. Pyongyang warned Seoul it was on the “brink of hostilities” and threatened naval confrontations over the disputed maritime border in the West Sea. Last week Pyongyang threatened South Korean civilian airliners and cut off all inter-Korean communication lines, including the military hotline. North Korea also shows its willingness to defy the international community by continuing preparations for test launching a long-range missile which would be a violation of two UN resolutions. Pyongyang has declared that any attempt to shoot down the missile would result in war with the U.S., South Korea, and Japan.
If North Korea were to launch a missile or “satellite,” it would represent the first foreign policy test of President Obama’s rhetoric. Similarly, if the UN Security Council wants to salvage any credibility for the viability of its resolutions and to uphold the tenet of nonproliferation, it would have no choice but to fully enforce the existing resolutions and pass a follow-on agreement that contains stronger punitive measures.