+ A

Defense minister promises joint drills but gives no dates

Feb 21,2018
Seoul and Washington will jointly announce a new schedule for annual military exercises, which were postponed for the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, soon after the Games end in March, said South Korean Minister of National Defense Song Young-moo Tuesday.

“The schedule of the Korea-U.S. joint military exercises will be jointly announced by the two countries after the Winter Paralympics come to an end on March 18,” and before April, Song told the National Assembly’s defense committee in Seoul.

Until then, the two countries will maintain a “neither confirm nor deny (NCND)” posture on dates for the exercises, Song added, a decision that was reached with U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.

“Our governments’ shared position is that the delay of the Korea-U.S. joint exercises is in keeping with the Olympic spirit,” said Song.

In early January, President Moon Jae-in and U.S. President Donald Trump agreed to delay the annual joint military exercises to ensure the safety and success of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, which run from Feb. 9 to 25, and the Paralympics, scheduled for March 9 to 18.

Korea and the United States usually hold Key Resolve, computer-simulated war games, and Foal Eagle, a combined field training exercise, over two months in early spring. These large-scale joint exercises are regularly denounced by the North as a rehearsal for an invasion and have escalated military tensions on the Korean Peninsula. Seoul and Washington also hold joint drills in August, the Ulchi Freedom Guardian (UFG), which are also computer-simulated, like Key Resolve.

Song shot down a lawmaker’s questioning of whether the date of the exercises was intentionally not being revealed for North Korea’s sake, saying that is not the case.

He also dismissed lawmakers’ concerns over a possible crack in the alliance with the U.S. over the issue of the exercises, saying that he and Mattis agreed that there is not even a “1-millimeter margin of error” in the Korea-U.S. alliance.

Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon on the same day told a parliamentary committee he has no plan to oppose the resumption of Korea-U.S. military drills after the Olympics. “The Korea-U.S. military authorities are in negotiations on resuming the military exercises,” he said.

In a report submitted to the U.S. House Armed Services Committee last week, Gen. Vincent Brooks, commander of the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK), stated that the United States “will execute the two major theater-level command post exercises and one theater-level field training exercise each year.”

Brooks said these exercises are “essential” to strengthen the Korea-U.S. alliance, deter North Korean aggression, ensure the United Nations Command’s ability to maintain the armistice agreement and improve force readiness and interoperability.

He said the USFK’s efforts to improve its readiness on the Korea Peninsula are a “two-pronged approach aimed at ensuring we conduct robust combined and joint exercise cycles and continue whole scale integration efforts throughout each subordinate component command.”

The two major theater-level command post exercises likely refer to the Key Resolve and UFG exercises, while the field training likely refers to Foal Eagle.

While Washington has been signaling that it is prepared for both military action as well as engagement with Pyongyang, satellite imagery released by 38 North, a North Korea analysis website, indicated an experimental light water reactor at the Yongbyon nuclear facility in North Pyongan Province is nearing completion.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]