Joint exercises could hike Korea tensions

North Korea vows “merciless retaliation” over US-South Korea military drills

North Korea vows “merciless retaliation” over US-South Korea military drills

"The joint exercise is the most explicit expression of hostility against us, and no one can guarantee that the exercise won't evolve into actual fighting", said an editorial carried by the North's official Rodong Sinmun newspaper.

About 25,000 US service members joined last year's UFG drills.

The announcement came amid concerns that the annual military drills could spark a new crisis with North Korea which has threatened to attack the American Pacific territory of Guam.

Pyongyang later said it was holding off firing towards Guam while it waited to see what the United States would do next.

North Korea has repeatedly called for an end to large-scale joint military exercises between the allies in exchange for a freeze on its nuclear and missile programs.

The Pentagon said about 17,500 American service members will participate in the drills.

"If anything, the joint exercises must be strengthened", Cheon Seongwhun, who served as a national security adviser to former conservative South Korean President Park Geun-hye, said in an interview. The question is how strong it will be.

Pedestrians walk past a TV screen showing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on a street broadcasting news of North Korea's latest missile launch, in Tokyo, Japan, 04 July 2017.

If this is right, expect the usual propaganda belligerence in state media or low-level provocations like artillery and short-range missile drills.

"North Korea has already flight-tested ICBMs twice this year and will probably take a wait-and-see approach to assess the impact of stronger pressure from the United States and China and maybe even seek an opportunity for talks, rather than quickly move forward with another test", said Moon Seong Mook, a former South Korean military official and current senior analyst for the Seoul-based Korea Research Institute for National Strategy.

After North Korea and the United States traded bellicose threats of nuclear conflagration, all eyes will be on an annual war game in the South next week that could send tensions spiraling back upwards, analysts say.

David Wright, a USA analyst from the Union of Concerned Scientists, said in an emailed statement that the United States should "postpone or significantly restructure" the exercises to reduce the risk of military confrontation. However, the US and South Korea maintain they are purely defensive.

US President Donald Trump assured South Korea he would consult with them before making any military decisions on North Korea, according to Moon.

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