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[Op-Ed] Ulchi Freedom Guardian

Posted August. 19, 2009 08:45,   


Ulchi Freedom Guardian is a joint military exercise between South Korea and the United States running Aug. 17-27. The drill is preparation for the handover of wartime operational command to Seoul in 2012. Ulchi is designed to improve joint operational capabilities to enable joint operations without difficulty even after the transfer. In short, the goal of the exercise is protecting the South Korean people’s right to live. Nevertheless, certain left-wing organizations claiming to stand for “anti-war and peace” are demanding an end to Ulchi, calling it a war exercise.

Fundamentally, an army is created for war. That means it should prepare for armed conflict. What matters is whether Ulchi is an exercise for attack or defense. The origin of the drill shows it is defensive in nature. Seoul and Washington began conducting the Ulchi Focus Lens exercise led by the U.N. Command in 1954, a year after the armistice ending the Korean War was signed. After North Korean commandos infiltrated the presidential office in South Korea in 1968, South Korea and the U.S. began an exercise that evolved into Ulchi Freedom Guardian. The claim by pro-North Korea groups that Seoul and Washington are conducting a war drill is groundless, just like the notion that their military exercises are preparation for an attack on North Korea.

This year’s exercise will see participation by 56,000 South Korean forces and 10,000 American troops in a computerized war game. Ulchi Freedom Guardian also includes drills to defend South Korea from North Korea’s cyber and terrorist attacks of bombs, chemical warfare, and biological and radioactive weapons. A series of provocations by Pyongyang have encouraged Seoul and Washington to strengthen such exercises. As in the past, the U.N. Command informed North Korea of the exercise last month. Yet Pyongyang blasted it as an “exercise for nuclear war” and threatened to retaliate with “ruthless and exterminatory attacks.” Pro-North Korea groups look as if they have joined forces with North Korea, saying they support “anti-war and peace” but never criticizing Pyongyang’s nuclear threat.

The Korea Confederation of Trade Unions, the Korea Alliance for Progressive Movement and the Solidarity for Peace and Reunification of (South) Korea even held a protest against the exercise Monday. “Ulchi Freedom Guardian is the world’s most aggressive war drill designed to topple North Korea,” they said in a statement. They even claimed President Lee Myung-bak pursued the exercise even after proposing reduction of conventional weapons in his Liberation Day speech. A proposal usually does not result in an immediate cut in weapons, however. The two Koreas should find practicable measures on arms reduction based on mutuality.

Editorial Writer Yuk Jeong-soo (sooya@donga.com)