'Dangerous arms race' on the Korean Peninsula: Seoul's worrying response to Pyongyang missile

Key Points
  • South Korea's rapid response to Pyongyang's latest missile launch is worrying analysts
  • "This is a very dangerous arms race," said one expert
'Dangerous arms race' on the Korean Peninsula
'Dangerous arms race' on the Korean Peninsula

Seoul immediately responded to its northern neighbor's latest act of provocation on Friday with military drills and its own missile test, raising fears about the arms race on the Korean Peninsula.

For the second time in less than a month, Pyongyang on Friday fired a ballistic missile that flew over Japan in what is widely seen as payback for the U.N Security Council's latest sanctions.

The move comes hours after the pariah state threatened to use nuclear weapons to "sink" the world's third-largest economy and reduce the U.S. to "ashes and darkness" for supporting the U.N. resolution.

In retort, the South Korean military conducted live-fire exercises that mimic attacking Pyongyang's launch site, NBC News reported on Friday. President Moon Jae-in's administration also said on Friday that the country conducted its own ballistic missile test into the sea, according to Reuters. Moon also ordered officials to prepare for potential new threats, such as biochemical attacks and electro-magnetic pulse.

North Korea missile reportedly passes over Japan, lands in the sea
North Korea missile reportedly passes over Japan, lands in the sea

Seoul's rapid comeback is widely viewed as justified and indicates the nation was prepared for North Korean hostilities. However, analysts called the venture risky, warning it could escalate an already-tense situation.

"As an American waking up in Seoul to news of this latest provocation, I'm unnerved by the image of missiles being launched into the skies by both Koreas," said Jean H. Lee, global fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. "This is a very dangerous arms race."

In a statement, South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said its military's quick response represented combat readiness, Yonhap News reported. The country will be holding a National Security Council meeting later in the day to discuss the situation, while the U.N Security Council is also expected to convene.

"South Korea wants to show the world that it is not the only Korea that has advanced military capabilities ...They want to make sure Kim Jong Un knows who he is dealing with, and that South Korea can go tit-for-tat in a conflict, even without the U.S.," said Harry Kazianis, director of defense studies at The Center for the National Interest, a Washington-based think tank.

In this handout photo released by the South Korean Defense Ministry, South Korea's missile system firing Hyunmu-2 firing a missile into the East Sea during a drill aimed to counter North Korea's missile fires on September 15, 2017 in East Coast, South Korea.
South Korean Defense Ministry | Getty Images

Moon declared on Friday that dialogue with the Pyongyang was currently "impossible." The head of state has long advocated engagement with Kim's regime and says he believes in the use of pressure to bring the dictator to the negotiating table.

As much as Seoul retaliates, however, it may not be effective in deterring the North.

"To practice bomb drills when the enemy is conducting nuclear and ballistic missile tests that are hundreds of thousands of times as powerful as the conventional bombs the South is showcasing, there's an element of futility, if not tragedy, to the South's stand," said Sung-Yoon Lee, professor at Tufts University's The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy

Friday's developments are of historical significance. The day marks the 67th anniversary of the American landing at Inchon, an important military offensive during the Korean War.