South Korea to resume joint military exercises with US

Drills to aggravate North Korea during period of detente

 US and South Korean marines during a previous joint exercise in Korea. Pyongyang regularly protests that such drills are a dress rehearsal for an invasion. Photograph: Jeon Heon-Kyun/EPA

US and South Korean marines during a previous joint exercise in Korea. Pyongyang regularly protests that such drills are a dress rehearsal for an invasion. Photograph: Jeon Heon-Kyun/EPA

 

South Korea is set to press ahead with joint military exercises with the US in a move likely to aggravate North Korea amid a period of inter-Korean detente.

The allies will hold the Key Resolve and Ulchi-Freedom Guardian computer-based drills this year, the ministry of national defence in Seoul said in a report to the parliament on Tuesday.

The report, a copy of which was seen by the Financial Times, did not clarify whether South Korea would host the annual Foal Eagle field training exercises, which involve soldiers on the ground and are particularly despised by the North.

Pyongyang regularly protests that such drills are a dress rehearsal for an invasion. Washington views them as an integral means to deter and put pressure on the reclusive regime.

The development coincides with a period of inter-Korean reconciliation that Seoul hopes will evolve into fully-fledged negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang over the North’s advanced weapons programmes.

The peninsula teetered on the edge of conflict last year as Donald Trump, US president, faced off with Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s supreme leader, over the regime’s testing of long-range ballistic missiles.

Undergone a transformation

However, relations between the Koreas have undergone a transformation since the new year with senior figures from both nations bonding at the Winter Olympic Games in the South.

After a high-level delegation from the North attended the opening ceremony, Mr Kim invited Moon Jae-in, South Korea’s leader, to Pyongyang for what would be the first inter-Korean summit in more than a decade.

But many analysts believe the joint military exercises could prove a stumbling block not only for relations with the North but with ally Washington.

The Key Resolve and Foal Eagle exercises are usually held in February, but were this year postponed until after the Olympic and Paralympic games.

The defence ministry report did not specify when Key Resolve would be held this year but said the drills would focus on developing its 4D strategy to detect, disrupt and destroy and defend against North Korean missiles.

The ministry refused to confirm nor deny the report, while US Forces Korea said that Seoul and Washington planned to conduct the postponed drills “as planned”.

Kim Dong-yeop, military expert and professor at Kyungnam University, said now was the time for the allies to hold the exercises.

“The North seems to urgently need to improve relations with Seoul,” he said, pointing to the impact of UN and US sanctions on the regime. “So they will accept the joint military drills.”

Shin Jong-woo, a researcher at the Korea Defense and Security Forum, a think tank, said: “Even though the joint military drills can be a hurdle for inter-Korean reconciliation, I believe they are necessary.

“If there was no threat from North Korea in the first place, there wouldn’t need to be any drills.” – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2018