SEOUL, South Korea — Air raid sirens sounded loud in South Korea after the North fired about a dozen missiles in its direction this Wednesday, at least one of which landed near the rivals’ tense maritime border.
The launch came hours after North Korea threatened to use nuclear weapons to make the US and South Korea “pay the most terrible price in history” as it ramped up its fiery rhetoric targeting ongoing large-scale military exercises between its rivals.
South Korea’s military said North Korea fired more than 10 missiles of various types off its east and west coasts.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement on Wednesday that it had detected three short-range ballistic missiles fired at the northeastern coastal city of Wonsan. One of the missiles landed 26 kilometers (16 mi) from the rivals’ maritime borders.
The landing site is in international waters, but still far south of the extension of national borders. South Korea’s military said it was the first time a North Korean missile had landed so close to the maritime border since the countries split in 1948.
In 2010, North Korea fired artillery shells at a front South Korean island and reportedly torpedoed a South Korean navy ship, both off the peninsula’s west coast, killing a total of 50 people.
“This is very unprecedented and we will never tolerate it,” South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a separate statement.
The North Korean missile’s landing site is also 167 kilometers (104 miles) northwest of South Korea’s Ulleung Island, where the airstrike was later announced.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff said South Korea will not tolerate North Korean provocations and will deal strictly with them in close coordination with the United States. It said South Korea has increased its surveillance of North Korea.
Animosity on the Korean Peninsula has been high in recent months, with North Korea testing a number of nuclear missiles and passing a law allowing the preemptive use of its nuclear weapons in a wide variety of situations. Some experts still doubt that North Korea could use nuclear weapons first in the face of US and South Korean forces.
North Korea has claimed its recent weapons tests were intended to warn Washington and Seoul ahead of their series of joint military drills, which it sees as training for an invasion, including this week’s exercises involving some 240 warplanes.
In a statement released Wednesday morning, Park Jong-chon, secretary of the ruling Workers’ Party, who is considered a close confidant of leader Kim Jong-un, called the Vigilant Storm air force exercise “aggressive and provocative.”
Then he also accused the Pentagon of framing the collapse of the North Korean regime as a major policy goal in an apparent reference to the Pentagon’s recently released National Defense Strategy report. The report said that any nuclear attack by North Korea against the United States or its allies and partners “will result in the end of this regime.”
He criticized South Korean military leaders for what he called “garbage” comments that threatened to destroy North Korea if it used nuclear weapons.
South Korea’s military has warned North Korea that using its nuclear weapons would put it on a “path of self-destruction”.
“If the US and South Korea try to use armed forces against (North Korea) without any fear, the (North’s) armed forces’ special assets will carry out their strategic mission without delay,” Pak said in an apparent reference to the country’s nuclear weapons.
“The US and South Korea will have to face a terrible case and pay the most terrible price in history,” he said.
US and South Korean officials have steadfastly maintained that their exercises are defensive in nature and that they have no intention of attacking North Korea.
The White House on Tuesday pushed back against North Korea’s saber-rattling, reiterating that the drills are part of a routine training plan with South Korea.
“We reject the idea that it serves as any kind of provocation. We have made it clear that we have no hostile intentions toward (North Korea) and we urge them to engage in serious and sustained diplomacy,” White House National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said.
North Korea “is not responding. At the same time, we will continue to work closely with our allies and partners to limit the North’s ability to advance its illicit weapons programs and threaten regional stability,” Watson said.