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U.S., South Korea launch warning missiles as North Korean nuclear threat looms

A timeline of the escalating tension between North Korea and surrounding countries

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South Korean and U.S. missiles are displayed at the Korea War Memorial Museum in Seoul, South Korea.

South Korean and U.S. missiles are displayed at the Korea War Memorial Museum in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, May 26, 2022.

Ahn Young-joon, Associated Press

Early this morning, South Korea and the U.S. launched eight missiles into the East Sea in their first combined move since 2017, reports the South Korean Yonhap News.

This demonstration lasted around 10 minutes and was conducted in response to weapons tests carried out by North Korea. Tension in the region has been escalating rapidly; here is a brief timeline of events leading up to the latest show of firepower.

  • September 2017 — North Korea’s sixth and largest nuclear test at the Punggye-ri facility registers as a 6.3 on the Richter scale. The bomb tested was likely a two-stage thermonuclear device, reports the Nuclear Threat Initiative.
  • April 2018 — Kim Jong-un announces an end to nuclear tests. According to the BBC, the Korean Central News Agency claimed the tests were unnecessary because “nuclear weaponization” has been accomplished.
  • May 2019The New York Times reports short-range ballistic missiles launched for the first time since 2017.
  • October 2020 — In a parade celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Workers’ Party, North Korea shows off one of the largest ballistic missiles in the world, per CNN.
  • August 2021 — The International Atomic Energy Agency releases an annual report stating North Korea has restarted its Yongbyon reactor, a violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions.


  • Jan 1138North reports a hypersonic missile test reached a velocity 10 times the speed of sound.
  • Jan 30 — North Korea conducts the largest missile test launch since 2017, per the BBC.
  • March 24 — An intercontinental ballistic missile is tested, landing in Japanese waters though questions about the accuracy of reports remain, according to The New York Times.
  • May 24 — Russia and China fly warplanes near Japanese airspace as Tokyo hosts U.S. President Joe Biden. Eight warplanes from the two countries also enter South Korean airspace, according to Reuters.
  • May 25 — North Korea launches three missiles into the sea hours after Biden leaves Tokyo. One is suspected to be an ICBM, per NPR.
  • May 26 — The Associated Press reports the U.S. proposed increased sanctions on North Korea at a U.N. Security Council but was vetoed by China and Russia.
  • May 27 — The U.S. treasury releases a press statement announcing sanctions on an individual, two Russian financial institutions, and a trading company for “their support to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s (DPRK) development of weapons of mass destruction.”

This month

  • June 3 — North Korea gains presidency of the U.N. Conference on Disarmament, as it alphabetically rotates between 65 members. Marc Finaud, from the Geneva Centre for Security Policy said “this can only highlight the irrelevance of the (Conference on Disarmament) in the current context,” according to Reuters.
  • June 4 — The U.S. ends a three-day naval exercise with South Korea off the Japanese island of Okinawa, per PBS.
  • June 5 — North Korea fires short-range missiles into the sea as a response to U.S. naval exercise, in what The Associated Press calls a “provocative streak in weapons demonstrations.”
  • June 6 — South Korea and the U.S. fire eight surface-to-surface missiles into the sea, though allies have called this a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions according to CNBC.