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Illustration by Security Management

North Korea Escalates Border Tensions

Over the past 10 days, North Korea has announced it would sever hotlines with South Korea, demolished a joint liaison office in a border town, and threatened to abandon an inter-Korean military agreement aimed at reducing border tensions, CNBC reports. In addition, North Korea has warned that its army is ready to enter the demilitarized zone dividing North and South Korea, threatening to “turn the front line into a fortress and heighten military vigilance.”

On Tuesday, the North Korean military said it was “studying an action plan” for the army to move into demilitarized zones, resuming military exercises and reestablishing guard posts in border areas.

The threats are partly in response to defector groups in South Korea sending propaganda material—primarily using balloons laden with leaflets, food, $1 bills, and USB sticks containing South Korean entertainment and news—North, which South Korea had promised to prevent as part of the inter-Korean agreement reached in 2018. However, according to BBC analysis, “it is likely this is about something bigger. The timing of the releases, and the careful escalation from cutting communications to threats of military action, look orchestrated.”

Outside analysts note that the non-lethal but dramatic escalation signals that North Korea is attempting to punish South Korea over strict U.S. sanctions, according to The Guardian. In a statement, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s sister and advisor, Kim Yo-jong, said that previous inter-Korean agreements had failed because South Korean President Moon Jae-in had “put his neck into the noose of pro-U.S. flunkyism.”

According to Tobias Harris and Victor Cha at Washington-based consultancy Teneo Intelligence, “North Korea’s sabre-rattling, even if it has so far been directed at Seoul, could eventually lead to heightened tensions with the U.S.,” they wrote. “It is possible that Pyongyang could be trying to regain Donald Trump’s attention, as the president has been otherwise preoccupied with COVID-19, mass protests, and his reelection prospects.”