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North Korea Launches Two Missiles in Protest Over US-South Korea Military Drills

The enormous military exercises that represent a continuing point of tension on the Korean peninsula have just started, and will run until April 24.

by Scott Mitchell
Mar 2 2015, 12:05pm

Photo via Reuters

North Korea fired two missiles into the sea on Monday, in what is being seen as a protest over the US and South Korea commencing their huge annual war games. Today's incident quickly raised tensions and diplomatic condemnation, in what has become an yearly game of brinksmanship.

"If North Korea takes provocative actions, our military will react firmly and strongly so North Korea will regret it in its bones," said South Korean Defense Minister Kim Min-seok in a press statement.

South Korea said the two ballistics were fired from the city of Nampo, on the west coast of the Korean peninsula, and travelled 305 miles before landing off the shore of the east coast. The South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff said the missiles were most likely Scud C or Scud D rockets.

The US-South Korea military drill is made up of the operation known as Foal Eagle and a concurrent post exercise called Key Resolve. Kim told reporters that during 2014's exercises North Korea launched some 90 ballistic missiles.

This is one of the largest military exercises in the world. Last year some 200,000 South Korean troops and 12,700 US personnel took part in several weeks' worth of maneuvers and training operations. This year the operation runs from March 2 to April 24.

Related: The strange future of North Korean diplomacy. Read more here.

North Korea has always alleged that the operation constitutes aggression and intimidation on the part of South Korea and the US.

"The only means to cope with the aggression and war by the US imperialists and their followers is neither dialogue nor peace. They should be dealt with only by merciless strikes," a North Korean military spokesperson said in a statement reported by state-controlled media on Monday.

South Korean Minister Kim noted, however, that Pyongyang launched the missiles without designating any no-sail zones first.

Japan was also quick to speak out against the incident. The country's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said: "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."

North Korea has previously attempted to disrupt the show of force by its southern neighbors and the US with an array of provocations. In 2014, a North Korean patrol boat entered South Korean waters on the eve of the exercise. 

This year, Pyongyang attempted to bring the annual exercise to an end, promising that if the drill was called off it would put a hold on any nuclear testing. A broadcast by official state media agency KCNA on 10 January explained that a communique had been sent to the US seeking an end to the yearly event.

"The message proposed [that] the US contribute to easing tension on the Korean peninsula by temporarily suspending joint military exercises in South Korea and its vicinity this year," the report said.

But the US labeled that offer a threat, saying that they would not accept North Korea using continuing nuclear tests as a bargaining chip.

"The DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the official title of North Korea] statement that inappropriately links routine US-ROK [Republic of Korea, or South Korea] exercises to the possibility of a nuclear test by North Korea is an implicit threat," said US state department spokeswoman Jen Psaki at the time.

She added that North Korea should "immediately cease all threats, reduce tensions, and take the necessary steps toward denuclearization needed to resume credible negotiations."

Follow Scott Mitchell on Twitter: @s_mitchell