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North Korea's threats over US-South Korea war games: Another bluff?

US-South Korea war games got under way in the Sea of Japan today as a flotilla of 20 US and South Korean ships conducted the first of four days of military exercises as North Korea threatened nuclear deterrence.

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The aircraft carrier USS George Washington departs Busan, South Korea on Sunday. The nuclear-powered U.S. supercarrier led an armada of warships in exercises off the Korean peninsula Sunday that North Korea has vowed to physically block and says could escalate into nuclear war.

Adam K. Thomas/U.S. Navy/AP

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A flotilla of 20 American and South Korean Navy ships churned the waters off South Korea’s east coast Sunday on the first of four days of military exercises in a show of force that North Korea promises to answer with a “powerful nuclear deterrence.”

The rhetoric from North Korea, however, appears to most observers as just that – words that suggest a long-range determination to stick to its nuclear program while avoiding an immediate military confrontation.

“This is just a verbal threat,” says Choi Jin-wook, senior fellow on North Korean issues at the Korea Institute of National Unification, a Seoul-based think tank. “It’s just a bluff.”

What the war games entail

The military exercises, led by the 98,000-ton Nimitz class aircraft carrier, come in the aftermath of the sinking of the South Korean Navy vessel, the Cheonan – in the Yellow Sea, on the opposite side of the Korean peninsula – in March. The carrier has 80 war planes taking off from its decks while more than 100 other planes are flying from the major United States air base at Osan, about 30 miles South of Seoul. The exercises, called “Invincible Spirit,” also include destroyers with Aegis-class counter-missile systems – the latest technology for fending off missiles of the sort that North Korea has tested over the years.

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