The U.S. and South Korea began on Monday their biggest joint military exercise in about five years, after a hiatus on large-scale drills failed to entice North Korea’s Kim Jong Un to make concessions in disarmament talks.
Ulchi Freedom Shield drills are expected to be attended by thousands of military personnel and last for at least two weeks. According to the U.S., South Korea and Japan, they will be defensive and include coordination exercises in case of an attack from North Korea.
Pyongyang will respond in anger. It has long regarded joint exercises, which it considers a precursor to war and invasion, as its main objective. Leader Kim Jong Un’s regime has turned up the heat in its rhetoric in the past few weeks, indicating it could get back to the provocations that were mostly put on hold as it battled a Covid outbreak first revealed in May, and which it said ended earlier this month.
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol stated that Ulchi Freedom Shield will include realistic scenarios, including protection of facilities like ports, airports and nuclear power stations. “Wars today are totally different from those in the past,” Yoon said in a cabinet meeting Monday.
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Yoon is a conservative, who was elected to office in May. He pledged to resume large-scale joint drills and cooperation with the U.S. for increased security against North Korea. According to his office, the allies will resume practicing war scenarios on the ground, in the air and at sea, as opposed to the computerized simulations used in training for the last several years.
A joint missile defense exercise between the U.S. and South Korea was held off Hawaii in early February. The public display of unity from the two U.S. allies is an improvement from a deterioration of security ties in recent years over disputes stemming from Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule over the Korean Peninsula.
North Korea’s long-standing desire to take advantage of the prospects for disarmament talks in order to limit the U.S. South Korean military exercises has been a goal that was pursued by the country since the 1970s. This is something former President Donald Trump agreed with during his meetings with Kim Jong Un starting 2018.
Kim and Trump met three times with no concrete results to roll back North Korea’s nuclear weapons arsenal, which only grew larger as the talks sputtered. Kim Yo Jong, the powerful sister of the leader, last month rejected a disarmament-for-aid deal offered by Yoon as “stupid” and dismissed the idea of engaging with Seoul.
Yoon’s predecessor, Moon Jae-in, was wary of angering Pyongyang and making public military maneuvers that could sour ties with China or his rapprochement with North Korea.
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South Korea, Japan, and the U.S. have warned each other that North Korea has been preparing to conduct its first nuclear test in 2017 after warnings from Japan. Pyongyang wants to make warheads small enough to be used in tactical weapons to strike American allies in Asia. This will also increase the weaponry that could be transported by intercontinental missiles to the U.S.
Any display of North Korea’s weapons would serve as a reminder of the security problems posed by the regime that have simmered as the attention of President Joe Biden’s administration focused on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The majority of U.S. troops in South Korea are there for approximately one year. This means that drills are the most common time they can do practical, extensive training with other allies. Sometimes, equipment and soldiers from Japan and the USA were integrated in operations. A US-based aircraft group has also sailed off shore for many different purposes.
According to military officials on both sides, the U.S. has approximately 28,500 soldiers in South Korea. They also say that drills are necessary for preparation of any provocation by Pyongyang. North Korea has large parts of its military, which numbers more than a million men, near the line drawn at the time the cease-fire was implemented.
“We must maintain a tight security posture so as to keep peace on the Korean Peninsula,” Yoon said Monday.
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