North Korea on Sunday issued the customary threat of a "full-scale war" in response to annual South Korea-U.S. military exercises, which start Monday. It also threatened to fire aimed shots at sites in Gyeonggi Province from where the cross-border propaganda leaflets are floated.
◆ Propaganda Leaflets
The top priority for the North Korean regime at the moment is to ensure a smooth succession from leader Kim Jong-il to his son and heir Jong-un. In these circumstances, propaganda leaflets telling North Koreans that Middle Eastern dictatorships are toppling and criticizing the hereditary succession, deal a direct blow to the regime.
The North Korean leadership is already worried about isolated pockets of resistance triggered by food shortages.
The regime responds especially sensitively to the propaganda leaflets. When the South announced a plan on May 24 last year to launch propaganda offensive in response to the North's sinking of the Navy corvette Cheonan, the North threatened to fire at loudspeakers across the military demarcation line.
A Unification Ministry official said the North has demanded that the South stop sending propaganda flyers whenever inter-Korean military talks were held.
◆ Daily Necessities
But daily necessities attached to the helium balloons that carry the flyers are no less threatening. Toothpaste, toothbrushes, soap, instant noodles, household medicines, microwave instant rice, and radio sets are make it clear that the regime cannot provide for its own people.
South Korean activists floated balloons carrying about W600 million (US$1=W1,127) worth of goods to the North in February alone. In the past, many North Koreans reportedly rushed to collect the US$1 bills and daily necessities the balloons carried. A dollar buys 1 kg of rice or 1 kg of pork.
The regime even mobilizes military troops to collect propaganda leaflets, but it then reportedly has to watch them as well lest they pocket the goods or read the flyers.
Over the past years, the regime has declared 2012 as the target year to become a "powerful and prosperous nation." Although its food harvest hit a 20-year high last year, the regime is keeping back rations, apparently so it can create an illusion of success next year.
The North usually threatens war whenever the South-Korea-U.S. joint exercises are held, but military experts believe the chances are higher than usual this year that some kind of provocation will follow in the North's present dire situation.