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[Editorial] N.K. threats

North Korea released dual warnings of retaliation against the South over the weekend, one about the floating of balloons containing leaflets and basic supplies and the other about the Key Resolve/Foal Eagle joint exercise with the U.S. military. The messages from the North Korean military used extreme words such as “turning Seoul into a sea of fire” with their nuclear and missile powers.

The Key Resolve command post exercise and the Foal Eagle joint maneuver exercise are annual events dating back to the late 1960s when Pyongyang started a campaign of violence against the allied forces in the South. The North has customarily denounced the defensive exercise as a preparation for a new war on the Korean Peninsula, and it has again this time. What draws our attention in the latest verbal threats from the North is their emphasis on the South Korean “psychological warfare campaigns.”

For the first time since 2004, the Defense Ministry began sending a large quantity of leaflets, small radios and daily necessities attached to helium balloons floated to the North this year with some civic groups and politicians joining in the campaign. The papers carry information on the dethroning of dictators in Tunisia and Egypt in the wave of democracy movements currently sweeping the Middle East and North Africa.

Pyongyang’s hysterical reaction to the Southern military’s psychological warfare efforts is understandable. The information on popular uprisings in the areas long suppressed by authoritarian rulers and the high-quality consumer items flown in from the South are far more dangerous to the North Korean regime than any bombs. Thus they are threatening to blow up Imjingak, the place where the balloons are released.

The situation is most sensitive. North Korea is apparently taking a two-pronged strategy toward the South, trying to blunt military and psychological campaigns while still opening windows to dialogue. The message of warning also mentioned a need for “all-round dialogue and negotiations.” Seoul authorities should keep its armed forces on full alert against renewed provocations from the North, while being ready to tame Pyongyang with a peaceful approach.