North Korea and South Korea are both launching missiles in deadly game of chicken

Outraged over South Korea and the United States conducting military exercises/war games near its border, the hermit nation of North Korea launched 17 test missiles toward South Korea on Wednesday, prompting an unprecedented opposite reaction.

The reaction, a flurry of test missiles pointed at North Korea, came in part because the hermit kingdom’s own test missiles had come a bit too close for comfort.

“North Korea fired at least 17 missiles into the sea on Wednesday, including one that landed less than 60 km (40 miles) off South Korea’s coast, which the South’s President Yoon Suk-yeol described as ‘territorial encroachment,'” according to Reuters.

“It was the first time a ballistic missile had landed near the South’s waters since the peninsula was divided in 1945, and the most missiles fired by the North in a single day. South Korea issued rare air raid warnings and launched its own missiles in response,” Reuters reported early Wednesday morning, Eastern Standard Time.

The launch of the 17 missiles occurred hours after North Korea threatened to deploy nuclear weapons if the war games being performed by the U.S. and South Korea were a precursor to an invasion.

“If the US and South Korea attempt to use armed forces against [North Korea] without any fear, the special means of the [North’s] armed forces will carry out their strategic mission without delay. The US and South Korea will have to face a terrible case and pay the most horrible price in history,” Pak Jong Chon, a whole confidant of dictator Kim Jong Un, said.

South Korean leaders were not cowed by the threat.

“Our military can never tolerate this kind of North Korea’s provocative act, and will strictly and firmly respond under close South Korea-U.S. cooperation,” South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a press release.

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol meanwhile held an emergency National Security Council during which he “ordered that a stern response be swiftly taken so that North Korea’s provocation pays a clear price,” according to a press release from his office.

The stern response has included missiles fired back at North Korea — a first.

“Later Wednesday, South Korean fighter jets launched three air-to-surface, precision-guided missiles near the eastern sea border to show its determination to get tough on North Korean provocations,” according to CBS News.

“South Korea’s military said the missiles landed in international waters at the same distance of 16 miles north of the extension of the sea border as the North Korean missile fell earlier Wednesday,” CBS News reported.

But critics now worry that South Korea’s unprecedented decision to stand up for itself could inevitably escalate the conflict further.

“Seoul is justified in staging a proportional response to Pyongyang’s provocation across the de facto maritime border. But eye-for-an-eye demonstrations of force are unlikely to deter North Korean missile tests and could lead to unintended escalation,” Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul, told Al Jazeera.

According to Al Jazeera, he further “suggested the South would be better off imposing costs on Pyongyang by multilaterally tightening sanctions, and pressuring China to lean on North Korea by expanding US-South Korea-Japan security cooperation.”

Yet supporters of South Korea argue that the democratic nation had no other reasonable choice given the dire circumstances:

Critics and supporters alike agree that some action was necessary.

“North Korea firing missiles in a way that sets off air raid sirens appears intended to threaten South Koreans to pressure their government to change policy. North Korea’s expanding military capabilities and tests are worrisome, but offering concessions about alliance cooperation or nuclear recognition would make matters worse,” Easley told CBS News.

The U.S. has for its part stayed out of the fray, except to release a statement reiterating to North Korea that the war games being carried out aren’t meant for them.

“We reject the notion that they serve as any sort of provocation. We have made clear that we have no hostile intent towards the DPRK and call on them to engage in serious and sustained diplomacy,” White House National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said.

“The DPRK continues to not respond. At the same time, we will continue to work closely with our allies and partners to limit the North’s ability to advance its unlawful weapons programs and threaten regional stability,” she added.

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