The US and South Korea launched a joint-military exercise on Monday, ignoring a string of threats from North Korea that the planned action would provoke the "strongest military counter-action."
As the exercise began, however, North Korea did not hazard a military response — instead it began to play propaganda messages over high-decibel loudspeakers at the North-South border. South Korea had already started broadcasting similar messages last week.
The annual military exercise, known as the Ulchi Freedom Guardian, is largely computerized, but also involves around 80,000 South Korean and US troops, according to South Korean Yonhap News Agency. The exercise simulates an invasion of the South by the North, and is slated to last 12 days. Countries participating in the exercise include England, France, Australia, Canada, Colombia, Denmark and New Zealand.
Ahead of Monday's exercise, North Koreans issued a series of sharp threats.
"Such large-scale joint military exercises… are little short of a declaration of a war," North Korea's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea, which oversees cross-border issues, said last week, adding that the exercise could lead to "all out conflict."
"[North Korea] is the invincible power equipped with both latest offensive and defensive means unknown to the world including nuclear deterrence," it said. The military exercise might force the North Koreans to "retaliate against the US with tremendous muscle."
Meanwhile, the Korea-US Combined Forces Command insisted that the exercises are purely defensive in nature, and designed "to enhance… readiness, protect the region and maintain stability on the Korean peninsula."
A US State Department official acknowledged the threats made by North Korea on Saturday, and reiterated that the military exercise were not intended to stoke tensions.
"The exercises are transparent, defense-minded and are designed to increase the readiness of South Korea and the region, " an official told CNN, adding that "these exercises are a clear demonstration of the US commitment to the [US-Korean] alliance."
For years, the military exercise has been interpreted by the North Korean's as a belligerent act. In 2012, Kim Jong-on called on his troops to prepare for a "sacred war" leading up to that year's joint-exercise.
This year, however, the Ulchi Freedom Guardian comes amidst growing tension between North and South Korea. In early August, South Korean soldiers were injured by North Korean land mines, prompting the South to begin blasting propaganda messages across the border.
This year, North Korea has ramped up the rhetoric. A spokesman for the National Defense Committee suggested North Korea may be willing to use nuclear weapons.
"The army and people of the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] are no longer what they used to be in the past, when they had to counter the US nukes with rifles," the NDC spokesman said, boasting that North Korea is an "invincible power equipped with both the latest offensive and defensive means unknown to the world, including nuclear deterrence."
On Monday, after a meeting of the South Korean National Security Council President Park Geun-Hye also ramped up the rhetoric.
"We need to maintain a strong military readiness," he said, "to protect our people's lives and their properties from North Korea's provocations."
Watch VICE News' documentary Launching Balloons into North Korea: Propaganda Over Pyongyang