Early Monday morning, 6:32 a.m. and 6:41 a.m local time, North Korea fired two short-range Scud ballistic missiles from Nampho, a port south of Pyongyang. The missiles traveled for about 490km (305 miles) before hitting the sea, according to the Wall Street Journal, which cites South Korea’s Defense Ministry as a source. A defense ministry spokesperson also noted that North Korea did not designate any no-sail zones prior to the launches, which Seoul took as a provocation.
The missiles were North Korea’s predictable way of voicing their anger over two South Korean-U.S. military exercises that began this Monday and will last until April 24. According to a North Korean People’s Army spokesperson, “The situation on the Korean peninsula is again inching close to the brink of a war. The only means to cope with the aggression and war by the U.S. imperialists and their followers is neither dialogue nor peace. They should be dealt with only by merciless strikes.”
North Korea had offered a moratorium on nuclear testing if this year’s U.S.-ROK joint military exercises were cancelled. However, this proposal was rejected by the United States as an “implicit threat” to carry out further nuclear tests. At the moment, North Korea is also conducting military maneuvers of its own.
The eight-week “Foal Eagle” exercise, involving 200,000 South Korean and 3,700 U.S. troops includes air, ground, and land forces, whereas the joint drill “Key Resolve” is a computer-simulated exercise lasting 12 days. “Exercising our multinational force is an important component of readiness and is fundamental to sustaining … the alliance. The United Nations Command has informed the Korean People’s Army in North Korea … about Foal Eagle exercise dates and the non-provocative nature of this training,” U.S. General Curtis Scaparrotti, commander of the allies’ Combined Forces Command, emphasized in a statement.
South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seo noted that “if North Korea takes provocative actions, our military will react firmly and strongly so North Korea will regret it in its bones.We will respond firmly to North Korean provocations with the combined [U.S.-South Korean] defensive posture.”
Japan also immediately lodged a protest over North Korea’s missile launch. “The ballistic missile launches by North Korea are extremely problematic conduct in terms of aviation and navigation safety. We swiftly lodged a stern protest with North Korea, ” Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told Reuters. However, Reuters notes that Japan was careful in its protest so as not to derail bilateral talks that deal with the issue of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korean agents in the past.