Why is North Korea asking countries to evacuate their embassies?

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A South Korean soldier looks to the north through a pair of binoculars at an observation post near the demilitarized zone north of Seoul on April 5.
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A South Korean soldier looks to the north through a pair of binoculars at an observation post near the demilitarized zone north of Seoul on April 5.

The U.K. and Russia confirm they have been asked to leave

Pyongyang has asked foreign embassies to consider evacuating their embassies because, the North Korean government says, it can't protect them "in the event of conflict." The implication, of course, is that things are about to get violent.

Is this a sign that North Korea is serious about war, or is it just more posturing?

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Britain's Foreign Office seems to think it's all talk, telling Sky News it "has no intention of evacuating [its] embassy in Pyongyang" and that it is "considering next steps, including a change to our travel advice."

Reuters reports that Russia is "examining the request but was not planning an evacuation at this stage, and there were no outward signs of increased tension in the North Korean capital itself."

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Considering that North Korea is now making threats against the United States on a daily basis, it can be hard to determine which warnings are serious and which aren't. As Dashiell Bennett at The Atlantic Wire argues, it's not individual warnings that matter but the cumulative sense of tension they create:

This military brinksmanship has gone about as far as it can go without any shots being fired, and no one is sure if this might be the one time when things go even further. There is the possibility that any missile launch by Pyongyang would be labeled a "test launch," but when you've already primed everyone for war, it's easy for people on the other side to get the wrong idea. [Atlantic Wire]

North Korea's warning to foreign embassies comes after months of escalating rhetoric and aggressive actions including, most recently, moving two missiles to the country's east coast. Despite the rising tensions, the BBC's Lucy Williamson says that "[a]necdotal reports from inside the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, say the mood there is calm, and many believe North Korea is deliberately trying to create a sense of crisis."

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