North Korea fires ballistic missiles after protesting US drills

North Korea’s seventh missile event this month comes after it claimed to have tested a nuclear-capable underwater attack drone.

People watch a TV broadcasting a news report on North Korea firing a ballistic missile into the sea off its east coast, at a railway station in Seoul, South Korea, March 16, 2023.
North Korea has launched two missiles into the waters of its east coast [File: Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters]

North Korea has fired two ballistic missiles into the sea off its east coast, according to the South Korean military, after protesting joint military drills by the United States and South Korea.

The South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff (JSC) said the missiles were fired from North Korea’s Hwanghae province shortly before 8am local time on Monday (23:00 GMT Sunday).

The JSC condemned the launches as a violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions and said it would continue military drills as planned.

“We will keep a close eye on North Korea’s various activities and maintain firm readiness posture based on the capability to overwhelmingly respond to any provocations,” the JCS said in a statement.

The Japanese government said the projectiles are believed to have fallen outside of Japan’s exclusive economic zone.

It also lodged a “strong protest” with North Korea, saying the neighbouring country’s missile launches threaten the safety and peace of Japan, the region and the international community.

The launches were North Korea’s seventh missile event this month and underscore heightening military tensions in the region as the pace of both Pyongyang’s weapons tests and the US-South Korea joint military exercises has accelerated in recent months in a cycle of tit-for-tat responses.

The allies completed their most extensive springtime exercises in years last week, but North Korea is expected to further step up its testing activity as the US moves an aircraft carrier group to the peninsula this week for another round of joint drills.

The South Korean defence ministry said the US aircraft carrier USS Nimitz and ships from its accompanying strike group would stage joint maritime exercises with its forces on Monday off the Korean peninsula’s south coast. The carrier will then dock at a South Korean naval base in the southeastern port city of Busan on Tuesday.

The ship’s planned visit, which marks the first since the USS Ronald Reagan visited in September, was arranged as part of efforts to have more US “strategic assets” in the area to deter North Korea, the ministry said.

Pyongyang claims the exercises are a rehearsal for an invasion and occupation, but Washington and Seoul say they are defensive in nature.

North Korea has fired more than 20 ballistic and cruise missiles across 11 launch events this year, and last week conducted what it described as a three-day exercise that simulated nuclear attacks on South Korean targets.

Its tests also included a purported nuclear-capable underwater drone that it claimed is capable of setting off a huge “radioactive tsunami” that would destroy naval vessels and ports.

North Korea was already coming off a record year in weapons testing, having launched more than 70 missiles in 2022.

It also set into law last year an escalatory nuclear doctrine that authorises preemptive nuclear attacks in a broad range of scenarios where it may perceive its leadership as under threat.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies