North Korean state media said Monday that Pyongyang had carried through with a threat to cancel the 60-year-old armistice that ended the Korean War, as it and South Korea staged dueling war games amid threatening rhetoric that has risen to the highest level since North Korea rained artillery shells on a South Korean island in 2010.
Enraged over the South’s joint military drills with the United States and recent U.N. sanctions, Pyongyang has piled threat on top of threat, including vows to launch a nuclear strike on the U.S. Seoul has responded with tough talk of its own and has placed its troops on high alert.
The North Korean government made no formal announcement Monday on its repeated threats to scrap the armistice, but the country’s main newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, reported that the armistice was nullified Monday as Pyongyang had earlier announced it would.
The North followed through on another promise Monday, shutting down a Red Cross hotline that the North and South used for general communication and to discuss aid shipments and separated families’ reunions.
The 11-day military drills that started Monday involve 10,000 South Korean and about 3,000 American troops. Those coincide with two months of separate U.S.-South Korean field exercises that began March 1.
Also continuing are large-scale North Korean drills that Seoul says involve the army, navy and air force. The South Korean defense ministry said there have been no military activities it considers suspicious.
The North has threatened to nullify the armistice several times in times of tension with the outside world, and in 1996 the country sent hundreds of armed troops into a border village. The troops later withdrew.
Despite the heightened tension, there were signs of business as usual Monday.
The two Koreas continue to have at least two working channels of communication between their militaries and aviation authorities.
One of those hotlines was used Monday to give hundreds of South Koreans approval to enter North Korea to go to work. Their jobs are at the only remaining operational symbol of joint inter-Korean cooperation, the Kaesong industrial complex. It is operated in North Korea with South Korean money and knowhow and a mostly North Korean work force.
The North Korean rhetoric escalated as the U.N. Security Council last week approved a new round of sanctions over Pyongyang’s latest nuclear weapons test Feb. 12.
Analysts said that much of the bellicosity is meant to shore up loyalty among citizens and the military for North Korea’s young leader, Kim Jong Un.
“This is part of their brinksmanship,” said Daniel Pinkston, a Seoul-based expert on North Korea with the International Crisis Group think tank. “It’s an effort to signal their resolve, to show they are willing to take greater risks, with the expectation that everyone else caves in and gives them what they want.”
Part of what North Korea wants is a formal peace treaty to end the Korean War, instead of the armistice that leaves the peninsula still technically in a state of war. It also wants security guarantees and other concessions, direct talks with Washington, recognition as a nuclear weapons state and the removal of 28,500 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea.