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Alliance in flux

June 15,2018
The United States and North Korea held their first-ever summit in full-blown spectacle and flamboyance. While the world watched, U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un shook hands and signed what they called a comprehensive and history-making joint statement. Despite the hype, the four-point statement did not move beyond rhetoric or include a road map for “complete denuclearization.” In return for “firm and unwavering commitment to denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” from Kim, Trump promised “security guarantees” for the dictatorial regime. He would start with ending the “expensive” and “provocative” war games as long as Washington is holding negotiations with Pyongyang in “good faith.”

His comment raised alarms on the conservative front in the United States and South Korea as regular war exercises are the keystone to the South Korea-U.S. military alliance. Pyongyang has just made a baby step toward denuclearization. The defense authorities of Seoul and Washington so far have maintained that the regular military drills are for defense and deterrence against threats in the Korean Peninsula, and therefore should not be a matter of protest by North Korea. Yet Trump suddenly used the military exercises as a bargaining chip for denuclearization.

Money has been the key reason. Trump pointed to the “tremendous amount of money” used to send warships and aircraft carriers to Korea for the exercises. What may be affected first is the Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercise to be held in August. The exercise involving U.S. strategic assets like aircraft carriers and nuclear-powered submarines is designed to enhance joint readiness against a North Korean attack. Another large-scale exercise known as Key Resolve, typically held in the spring, also may stop. The exercise includes war simulations in the event of a North Korean attack.

The Korean and U.S. command cannot keep up coordination and readiness against contingencies if they do not hold exercises regularly. The decision is a “bad idea,” former U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen said. Ending military exercises eventually could lead to the drawdown of U.S. troops in South Korea. Seoul authorities must come up with measures to ensure the public that the country’s security front won’t come under risk as the result of closer ties between Washington and Pyongyang.

JoongAng Ilbo, June 14, Page 30