North Korean Missile Launches Are Business As Usual For A Troubled Region

North Korea tests missles during U.S.-South Korean exercises

Amid North Korea’s launch of seven surface-to-air missiles on Thursday, South Korean and American forces wrapped up the first phase in a series of military exercises. The operations, dubbed “Key Resolve,” began on March 2 and ended on Friday. The U.K.’s Daily Mail indicated the exercises included 10,000 South Korean troops and 8,600 American troops.

The joint war games have been a longstanding point of contention and frustration for North Korea, who regard such operations as a threat to the country’s security and stability. Indeed, one day prior to the start of the Key Resolve drills, North Korea conducted a similar missile launch, test-firing two “Scud” missiles that also landed in the sea according to a report by the Washington Post. North Korea’s military issued a public statement on the drills earlier this month, asserting that the country regards military exercises between the United States and South Korea as preparation for a large-scale invasion.

“Key Resolve and Foal Eagle are an undisguised encroachment upon the sovereignty and dignity of the DPRK and an unpardonable war hysteria of dishonest hostile forces,” the statement read. “Our revolutionary armed forces will never remain a passive onlooker to this grave situation.”

According to The Korea Times, Thursday’s incident constitutes North Korea’s fifth such launch this year. Reports from the region do not indicate that anyone was harmed when the most recent volley of missiles fell into the sea.

The ebb and flow of hostilities between North Korea and South Korea has kept the entire region on edge since overt combat ended between the two countries in 1953. America’s involvement in the Korean peninsula often brings an added dimension of political intrigue to the lingering dispute between the two Koreas.

Iran-based Press TV reports that China has expressed concern over American plans to deploy special anti-ballistic missile systems on the peninsula. U.S. Forces Korea commented on the reports, advising that the deployment of a Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense Battery (THAAD) would augment South Korea’s defenses against threats from North Korea. But some experts have expressed concern over the U.S. military’s current course of action.

“To ordinary South Koreans, THAAD is perceived as a U.S. means to spy on military activity in China, so many are worried that South Korea will be exploited by the U.S. in military terms and this will lead to a fissure in South Korea-China relations,” said Lee Yeon-woo of South Korea’s Sogang University.

Whether or not any THAAD batteries are actually deployed, North Korea will have more basis for skepticism and consternation in the weeks and months that follow as the United States and South Korea gear up for a new round of drills. The new joint operations, referred to as “Foal Eagle,” are scheduled to begin in early April and, based on prior events in the region, these exercises may prompt additional countermeasures from North Korea.

[Photo by Feng Li/Getty Images]