North Korea Launches Ballistic Missiles in Response to War Drills

The US flew long-range supersonic bombers during war drills with Japan and South Korea

North Korea fired off ballistic missiles as a response to war drills carried out by the United States, Japan, and South Korea this weekend. On Monday, Japan’s Coast Guard announced that North Korea launched two ballistic missiles. Kim Yo Jong, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, warned against the increased presence of US strategic assets on the Korean peninsula, saying the "frequency of using the Pacific as our firing range depends upon the US forces’ action character."

As a warning to upcoming joint US-South Korean military exercises, Pyongyang fired what Tokyo called a "ICBM-class ballistic missile" off Japan’s west coast. North Korea has conducted a record number of these launches since Washington and Seoul resumed large scale war games last year. However, North Korea’s firing of the Hwasong-15 ICBM on Saturday marked the first such launch since January 1st.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the missile flew 560 miles before landing in the Sea of Japan. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said the missile landed "within Japan’s [exclusive economic zone]."

South Korea’s National Security Council subsequently announced they had agreed to increase security cooperation with Washington and Tokyo and the US Indo-Pacific command issued a statement reaffirming its "ironclad" commitment to the defense of South Korea and Japan.

As a show of force, over the Sea of Japan, the US flew long-range supersonic bombers and F-16s alongside Japan’s F-15 fighter jets on Sunday. Separately, the US held joint air exercises with South Korea the same day. According to the South Korean military, the US flew a B-1B bomber in formation with South Korean F-35A stealth fighters.

Pyongyang issued a statement Friday accusing the US and South Korea of planning over 20 rounds of military drills this year. The statement said these include large-scale field exercises, and described Washington and Seoul as "the arch-criminals deliberately disrupting regional peace and stability."

As part of resuming regular war games, the US returned B-1B bombers to the Korean peninsula for the first time since 2017. As part of Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin’s trip to South Korea last month, he and his counterpart pledged to ramp up military exercises this year "[expanding] the scope and scale of combined field training exercises and to conduct a large-scale combined joint fires demonstration this year."

Last year, the US, Japan, and South Korea entered a trilateral defense agreement eyeing Pyongyang and Beijing. At the time, North Korea referred to this pact as an "Asian version of NATO." As part of a buildup against China, Japan recently announced it would double its military budget and increase cooperation with the Pentagon.

The Joe Biden administration’s North Korea policy is far more hawkish than the status quo during the last half of the Donald Trump administration, where war games were rolled back, dialog was opened, and all sides reduced weapons tests.

Connor Freeman is the assistant editor and a writer at the Libertarian Institute, primarily covering foreign policy. He is a co-host on the Conflicts of Interest podcast. His writing has been featured in media outlets such as, Counterpunch, and the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity. He has also appeared on Liberty Weekly, Around the Empire, and Parallax Views. You can follow him on Twitter @FreemansMind96.