‘Security is a temporary condition,’ says US commander in South Korea

General Vincent Brooks warns against complacency after Pentagon cancels war game

US secretary of state Mike Pompeo with US general Vincent Brooks, commander of United States Forces Korea,  at Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, South Korea on June 13th. Photograph:  Jung Yeon-je/Reuters

US secretary of state Mike Pompeo with US general Vincent Brooks, commander of United States Forces Korea, at Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, South Korea on June 13th. Photograph: Jung Yeon-je/Reuters

 

The top commander of US and allied forces in South Korea has warned about the dangers of military complacency just hours after a decision by Washington to cancel a joint military exercise on the Korean peninsula.

The Pentagon said on Monday it had suspended planning for “Freedom Guardian”, a large-scale war game that had been scheduled for August, following a landmark summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un in Singapore last week.

“Consistent with President Trump’s commitment and in concert with our Republic of Korea ally, the US military has suspended all planning for this August’s defensive war game Freedom Guardian,” said Dana White, a spokesman for the Pentagon.

No decisions have been made about subsequent military exercises but the US national security team is set to meet to discuss the issue this week.

However, General Vincent Brooks, chief of US Forces Korea and United Nations Command since 2016, who is ultimately responsible for South Korean security, signalled a note of caution. “If you are not attending to your security and continuing to advance your capabilities, then you’ll be in danger . . . Security is a temporary condition,” he said.

Kim Tae-woo, former head of Korea Institute for National Unification and professor at Kongyang University, said the intervention by Gen Brooks highlighted the importance of the exercises to the security of the country. “Mr Brooks is well aware of the importance of the joint drills in defending the country in emergency cases,” he said.

‘Provocative’

The official cancellation by the Pentagon was Mr Trump’s first concrete step since he surprised South Korea by saying he would cancel the regular war games. At a press conference following his meeting with Mr Kim, he described the games as “provocative”, and vowed to end them for as long as the US and North Korea were in talks towards denuclearisation.

“We will be stopping the war games, which will save us a tremendous amount of money, unless and until we see the future negotiation is not going along like it should,” Mr Trump said in Singapore.

The president’s decision sparked criticism in the US, with many analysts arguing that he had rewarded North Korea but received nothing in return.

The president and Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state who has been leading the North Korea talks, also came under fire over allegations that the joint declaration signed by Mr Trump and Mr Kim at the summit lacked detail. The document did not mention “complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearisation”, which the US had previously insisted on.

Speaking in Seoul and Beijing after the meeting, Mr Pompeo pushed back against suggestions that Washington had weakened its stance. He also suggested that North Korean state media reports that Washington would lift sanctions before denuclearisation were wrong.

The White House has not said when or where the US and North Korea will hold their next meeting, which analysts believe will be crucial to determining whether Mr Kim is serious about abandoning his nuclear weapons. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2018