North Korea fired two missiles into the sea and vowed “merciless” retaliation on Monday as the US and South Korea kicked off joint military drills denounced by Pyongyang as recklessly confrontational.
The annual exercises always trigger a surge in military tensions and warlike rhetoric on the divided peninsula, and analysts saw the North’s missile tests as a prelude to a concerted campaign of sabre rattling.
“And if there is a particularly sharp escalation, we could see the North orchestrating some kind of clash on the maritime border,” said Jeung Young-Tae, an analyst at the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul.
The missile launches came with a stern warning from the nuclear-armed North Korean People’s Army (KPA) that this year’s military drills would bring the peninsula “towards the brink of war.”
The South Korean defence ministry said the two Scud missiles were fired from the western port city of Nampo and fell into the sea off the east coast — a distance of nearly 500 kilometres (310 miles).
UN resolutions prohibit any ballistic missile test by North Korea and ministry spokesman Kim Min-Seok said Pyongyang appeared intent on triggering a “security crisis.”
“We will respond sternly and strongly to any provocation,” Kim told reporters.
The Japanese government said it had issued a strong protest to the North given the danger such missile launches posed to aviation and shipping.
Missile tests have long been a preferred North Korean method of expressing anger and displeasure with what it views as confrontational behaviour by the South and its allies.