North Korea has condemned the annual military exercises between the United States and South Korea in harsh terms, calling them a "wartime activity" that violates the ceasefire that ended the Korean War in 1953. Although such condemnations are routine, the circumstances surrounding them this year are unusual.
A statement issued by North Korea's state-controlled media Tuesday called this year's joint exercises a military threat and a menace. The statement warned that North Korea has the right to launch pre-emptive attacks for its self-defense.
The 10-day-long exercise by South Korea and the United States, named Ulchi Focus Lens, began Monday. North Korea routinely condemns these annual military drills, which the U.S. says are merely defensive and not intended as a provocation.
This year, however, the North is in a precarious position. After it flouted international warnings and test-fired seven missiles in early July, South Korea and other donor nations suspended economic aid that the North desperately needs.
Heavy rains then flooded parts of North Korea in mid-July, killing hundreds, causing widespread damage, and putting further strains on the North's already meager food supplies.
Pyongyang now needs the aid that was cut off more than ever. Seoul University Professor Hwang Ji-whan says Pyongyang's rhetoric is aimed at creating sympathy among South Koreans.
He says that in its dealings with the United States, North Korea has been driven to a corner. He says it is using this kind of rhetoric to escape from the situation and improve its position.
A military analyst in Seoul who asked to remain anonymous says the threats are a tactic aimed at rallying public opinion in South Korea against the United States and gaining concessions from officials in Seoul.
The analyst says that by provoking South Korea, North Korea hopes the South will try to appease the North with incentives and supplies.
Economic mismanagement and floods caused widespread famine in North Korea in the 1990's, and the food shortages have continued. On Tuesday, South Korea reported the North's grain shortfall this year would worsen to 1.6 million tons, from last year's one million tons.