Conflict & Justice

Pentagon plays down Korean Peninsula tensions after missile tests


A KN-02 missile, the kind that it is believed North Korea has launched six times in the last few days. The US has tried to downplay the missile tests, citing decreased tensions on the peninsula.



SEOUL, South Korea — The Pentagon said Monday that tensions on the Korean peninsula were relatively low despite recent North Korean missile tests.

North Korea has launched six short-range missiles over the past three days, which it said were legitimate military drills.

Pentagon press secretary George Little told reporters that the incidents were a scaling-back of previous missile tests and rhetoric.

"We have noticed broadly that North Korea has ratcheted back its provocative actions in recent weeks, and its bellicose rhetoric. A few months ago, we saw underground nuclear tests, we saw long-range missile tests, we saw heated rhetoric," he said.

More from GlobalPost: North Korea could eventually develop long-range nuclear missile, Pentagon says

"So I think we can safely say that we remain in a period of tensions that are relatively on a small scale by comparison."

The lack of bluster is a pleasant surprise for some in the intelligence community, who worried that North Korea would test a mid-range ballistic missile in March or April.

The Korean People's Army moved a Musudan missile to its east coast during those months, but did not end up testing it over the Sea of Japan, as many feared.

Several countries that backed UN sanctions agree — at least so far — that North Korea's six launches probably did not violate its international obligations.

UN sanctions stipulate that North Korea cannot test ballistic missiles. These short-range missiles appear not to be banned ballistic ones. They may have been launched from a high-caliber gun, South Korean officials have speculated.

Still, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Sunday that the launches were "provocative."

South Korea is still trying to determine what kind of projectile was launched but some believe it was a KN-02, a short-range tactical missile launched from a vehicle.

On Tuesday, North Korea released Chinese fishermen who had allegedly strayed into its waters.

The incident threatened to increase tensions in an already strained relationship between North Korea and China.