While North Korea’s threats were an American and Korean media highlight the reasons behind it were not as well-known. The United States was conducting joint annual military exercises with South Korea, and the North felt insecure having US troops so close to its border. Since 2002, South Korea and the U.S. have been conducting joint annual military exercises known as operation “Foal Eagle.” Foal Eagle is an annual two-month military exercise involving approximately 10,000 US and South Korean troops engaging in ground, air, naval, expeditionary and special operations training exercises. The exercises are expected to start today February 24, 2014 and as expected, North Korea is not happy.
Later this month, North and South Korea had planned to sponsor family reunions for families separated by the North South divide. This was the first state-sponsored reunion since 1953 and were anticipated to be an important reconciliatory act for Korean society. However, until recently North Korea planned to cancel the event in protest of what it interpreted as “practice for a U.S.-led invasion into the North.[i] However, high-level negotiations amongst South Korean and North Korean officials were able to save the reunion.
While the reunion was saved, it still seems likely that we can expect North Korea to increase inflammatory and anti-American rhetoric over the next few weeks both prior to and during the military exercises. This type of dialogue should be expected as Pyongyang previously reported in a state-run newspaper that, "The US is working hard to kick off large-scale joint military drills this year, too, for the purpose of mounting a pre-emptive nuclear attack upon [North Korea]." Pyongyang’s fears of a military attack are no surprise, as Foal Eagle operations involve flying carriers, which are capable of carrying nuclear weapons. This type of perceived security threat assures that North Korea will continue on its chosen course of provocative dialogue.