The cooling of tensions on the Korean Peninsula was strained on Saturday as North Korea launched three short-range missiles into the sea according to a South Korean official. Such missile tests are routinely performed by the North Korean military, but this particular launch come at a time of heightened tension as the United States and other western nations are attempting to defuse a period of heightened tensions.
The three short-range missiles were not launched at neighboring countries and posed no threat to them. However the South Korean Defense Ministry said that they were "monitoring the situation." Saturday's missile launch is the latest in a heightened string of tension that as set the world slightly more on edge with regards to the long-running tensions of the Korean peninsula.
Two of the missiles were launched in the morning and one missile was fired in the afternoon Korean Standard Time. The South Korean Defense Ministry has said that their initial assessment is that these launches were not the medium range Musudan-class ballistic missile. The Musudan is believed to have a range sufficient to strike American military bases in Guam.
The North Korean government has issued the threat of test-firing a Musudan missile for months, going as far as to install a launching platform on the east coast. But the missile was withdrawn early in May with no explanation.
The South Korean Defense Ministry said that it suspects that Saturday's missile launches may have consisted of smaller rockets. A Seoul official told the South Korean news agency Yonhap that "A more detailed analysis will be needed but the missiles launched may be a modified anti-ship missile or the KN-02 surface-to-surface missile derived from the Soviet era SS-21 that has a range of about 120 kilometres."
In the past North Korea has conducted similar missile test launches several times a year as a show of strength. Saturday's test came on the heels of joint U.S.-South Korean naval exercises this week. North Korea criticized the exercise as a direct unrestrained provocation and dress rehearsal for a real war.
Tensions have been high on the Korean peninsula ever since North Korea announced that it had conducted an underground nuclear test. Other threats by North Korea in the recent past have included threatening nuclear strikes on Washington D.C. and Seoul due to the U.N. sanctions that resulted from that nuclear test, along with the annual U.S.-South Korean military drills.
Analysts say that such bellicose threats are part of an attempt to get Washington to agree to aid-for-disarmament multiparty talks. Future evidence of this was given when North Korean leader Kim Jong-un replaced Kim Kyok Sik, the hardline defense minister, with Jang Jong Nam, a relatively unknown army general. Analysts argue that such a move was aimed at tightening Kim Jong-un's control of the military.
Tensions on the Korean peninsula between North Korea and South Korea and its western allies will likely remain high for the foreseeable future. Although the sanctions against North Korea have had the effect of significantly delaying its nuclear program according to various reports, the threat of a conventional provocation is still ever present. Time will tell if the situation can be deescalated through negotiations or is the region will live in a state of uncertain tension.