A four-day joint naval exercise with the U.S. in the Yellow Sea ended Wednesday. The core of the drill was an offensive strike meant as a counterattack if North Korea commits another provocation. The tension was higher with the cutting-edge U.S. 7th Fleet centered on the U.S. aircraft carrier USS George Washington, South Koreas Aegis destroyers and new aircraft carriers. Pyongyang maintained a quasi-war state by deploying fighters and surface-to-ship and surface-to-air missiles forward, claiming it would counter with fire indiscriminately.
The North did not attempt another provocation during the exercise apparently because it feared automatic U.S. intervention. This shows how crucial Seouls military alliance with Washington is to national security. What to do after the U.S. 7th Fleet leaves the Yellow Sea is a problem. The South Korean military will begin early next week a firing exercise in the same area, including a Marine drill that had been suspended due to the Norths shelling of Yeonpyeong. All eyes are on how the North will respond. In 1999, Pyongyang unilaterally declared a military demarcation line on the west coast of the Korean Peninsula immediately after the first inter-Korean naval battle in Yeonpyeong. It has since attempted many provocations to violate the Northern Limit Line as set by the U.N. Command under the 1953 armistice. The North shelled Yeonpyeong by claiming that the waters where South Korean Marines held shooting practice were North Korean territory.
The Defense Ministry in Seoul warned that if Pyongyang commits another provocation, it will not respond with equivalent fire but counter based on the level of threat and damage. The shelling of Yeonpyeong is a reminder of the importance of an independent response because the U.S. naval fleet and cutting-edge combat capability are not always in the South. Though the 28,500-strong U.S. 2nd Infantry Division and the Seventh Air Force are based in South Korean, U.S. naval forces are absent on the peninsula. The U.S. 7th Fleet and Marines, which form the core of the U.S. Navy, are stationed in Yokosuka and Okinawa, Japan, and would take a few days to arrive in South Korean waters. This is why South Korea must raise its combat capability in and around the five islands in the Yellow Sea. The attacks on the Cheonan and Yeonpyeong were provocations that targeted Seouls weaknesses.
The Souths National Assembly has set aside approximately 700 billion won (609 million U.S. dollars) next year to enhance the military capability of the five islands. The South Korean military is also weak in collecting intelligence that can detect signs of a North Korean provocation. Another problem is that Seoul and the military are too dependent on Washington for national security. Excessive reliance on the U.S. has produced political soldiers that turn to the presidential office or the Defense Military and care only about promotions and positions. If the military command loses its prowess on the battlefield, national security will be threatened. Fighting for the country should be something the people risk their lives for. This will allow an independent defense and retaliation against North Korea.