SEOUL, South Korea – AMERICAN and South Korean defence officials, formally suspended, is a large joint military exercise in the hope of promoting the nuclear negotiations with North Korea. It is a daring gamble that could lead to a serious crisis if the talks falter, and the allies are forced to resume the exercises, which North Korea, analysts say.
The cancellation, abruptly decided by President Donald Trump on his summit last week with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, was formally announced by the Pentagon on Monday. South Korean Ministry of Defence at the same time confirmed the suspension of the Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercises, consisting largely of computer-simulated war games.
In announcing his decision, Trump said the suspension of the “provocative” war games, “save us a huge amount of money.” The decision, which apparently came without consultation with South Korea or the Pentagon, surprised many in South Korea and the United States who believe that education is a central pillar of their countries’ seven-ten-year military alliance that dates back to the 1950-53 Korean War.
South Korean military commentator Lee Illwoo the halt described as “temporarily to withdraw from the wheels of the alliance.” Other experts agree that the suspension will weaken, at least temporarily, the allies’ defense posture against North Korea and open holes in their joint deterrence.
Seoul and Washington describe the movement as a temporary measure to extend the current detente on the Korean Peninsula and increasing the chances of a successful nuclear diplomacy with North Korea. But if North Korea does not move back and forth by taking serious steps in the direction of denuclearization, the allies would be forced to resume the exercises, and that would certainly draw a furious response from North Korea, which views the exercises, rehearsals for an invasion, say the experts.
“Suspend drilling once is dangerous because it creates a hole in our national security. But the resume of interrupted drilling would lead to greater safety crisis because there are more extreme resistance of North Korea would come,” Lee said.
The summer Ulchi exercise is one of the three major annual joint military exercises that the two countries have staged for decades to hone their ability to deal with potential conflicts with North Korea. The other two exercises are held in the spring — a computer-simulated, and the other a field exercise.
South Korea and the United States have always said that the drills are purely defensive. But they are an important source of tensions on the peninsula, with North Korea to her 1.1 million-member military on alert and staging his own weapons testing and military training in the response.
Experts say that South Korea and the United States should hold regular exercises to prepare for their commanders, which will be reviewed regularly, to work together smoothly in crisis situations and to respond to North Korea’s evolving military threats, and other factors, such as changes in the deployment of the US strategic assets.
“It is difficult to deny that the hole in the security problem would exist, and the allies must be prepared to snap the drill as it doesn’t really steps in the direction of denuclearization,” said Yeol Soo Kim, senior analyst of South Korea Korea Institute for Military Affairs.
In order to justify the suspension of the exercises, the United States must coax North Korea back to do with the significant steps that pressure on the nuclear disarmament firmly ahead, Yeol Soo Kim said. Such actions may include agreements on the disarmament timetable, the authentication methods and the display of a number of nuclear weapons and long-range missile equipment, Kim said.
The analysis of the suspension is probably the only concession He could offer to the Kim, in a time when the North Korean leader remained vague about his promise to work in the direction of the “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” Other rewards that North Korea wants an easing of international sanctions, the establishment of the diplomatic ties with the United States and a decline of the US troops in South Korea. These are larger concessions which are not likely to be granted by the united states without concrete steps by North Korea toward denuclearization.
“Trump does not have much (negotiating) cards now,” said Yang Uk of the Korea Defense and Security Forum.
The drilling suspension would have been unthinkable last year, when North Korea’s increased hostility with a scorching run of nuclear and long-range missile test that the country is closer to acquiring a nuclear arsenal capable of targeting the US mainland.
Still, the US-initiated decision to the exercises, it is not likely to drastically change the psyche of the South Koreans who have spent their whole life faced with North Korean threats and life in the wild swings in inter-Korean relations. Even last year, some South Koreans publicly displayed safety creeps, and the civil defense drills were generally lax.
That contrasted with 20-30 years ago when the South Koreans rushed to the shops to stock up on instant noodles and other provisions when North Korea threated to turn Seoul into a “sea of fire” and all the way to tensions.
It is not the first time that the U.S. and South Korea have halted military exercises in an attempt to ease the tensions with North Korea and convince it to renounce its nuclear weapons.
In the near the start of the North Korean nuclear crisis in the early 1990s, the allies called off their biggest spring drills, called ‘Team Spirit’, after which North Korea froze its nuclear facilities under a collapsed disarmament deal. These exercises have never resumed.