A new cycle of escalation on the Korean Peninsula looks set to begin this week when the U.S. and South Korea kick off annual military exercises that have a history of enraging Pyongyang. The long-planned drills follow weeks of belligerent rhetoric between the U.S. and North Korea that stoked fears of a catastrophic outcome. In what many saw as a slight easing of tensions last week, dictator Kim Jong Un said he would hold off for now before deciding whether to carry out a

threat, announced days earlier, to fire missiles toward the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam. The 10-day drills, known as Ulchi Freedom Guardian, will test whether North Korea’s apparent easing of its immediate threat to Guam proves durable—or if the de-escalation was really a backdown at all. U.S. officials have long said the exercises are intended to ensure readiness for a possible North Korean attack. Pyongyang, though, has characterized them as preparation for an invasion. READ MORE