WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) – North Korea has the global community on edge after firing missiles into the sea, and defense leaders in the United States are responding with efforts to deter escalation.

North Korea has fired several rounds of test missiles this week, leading to heightened tensions in the area. Defense experts worry they’ll take it further, with growing concerns about nuclear weapons.

“We are focused on making sure that they don’t choose to employ a nuclear weapon or choose to attack South Korea.” U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said.

Sec. Austin met with South Korea’s Defense Minister on Thursday. The allies vowed to respond to North Korea by extending the joint military exercises that were slated to end.

“To strengthen our combined readiness, and our ability to fight tonight if necessary,” Austin said.

“This is a strong warning against the DPRK,” South Korean Minister of Defense Lee Jong Suk said.

Ian Williams with the Center for Strategic and International Studies says the alliance with South Korea isn’t the only motivation for the U.S. to get involved.

“We’re doing ourselves a favor by preventing these kinds of conflicts,” Williams said.

He points out the war in Ukraine has hurt Americans, and conflict on the Korean peninsula could do the same.

“We would see very similar kinds of global economic shocks. South Korea is very important in auto manufacturing and electronics manufacturing,” Williams said.

He adds North Korean aggression would have devastating humanitarian consequences.

“We’re seeing authoritarian governments feeling very emboldened right now and it’s important that we take a stand and push back against them,” Williams said.