What is the Key Resolve?
South Korean military official said Thursday that it had been expected for North Korea to demand at Wednesday`s high-level inter-Korean talks that the South postpone the Key Resolve joint military exercise with the United States under the excuse of proposed family reunions. They said that Pyongyang`s intention was to brand the Key Resolve exercise as an obstacle for inter-Korean reconciliation so that it would continue to urge Seoul and Washington to halt the exercise in the future. One official said, "The North has clearly revealed its intention behind making the planned family reunions overlap with the Key Resolve exercise for two days (February 24 and 25)." The followings are a question-and-answer style summary of the North`s intention and the Key Resolve exercise.
Q: Why is the North clinging to getting the Key Resolve exercise halted?
A: It is because of the exercise`s nature as a symbol of the South Korea-U.S. alliance and its formidable power. As a military exercise for checking the procedures for the deployment of U.S. reinforcement forces under the South Korea-U.S. combined operation plan in the event of the North`s invasion of the South, the Key Resolve exercise is a core part of the U.S. commitment to the defense of South Korea. According to Seoul`s 2012 Defense White Paper, the United States will reinforce its troops in the South by a combined total of 690,000 troops of its army, navy, air force and marine corps, some 160 vessels, and 2,000 aircrafts in the event of a war on the Korean Peninsula. The North believes that its provocation would not be successful without blocking the reinforcement. Therefore, Pyongyang has been making all-in efforts to neutralize the Key Resolve by using the two-pronged tactic of doing negotiation on one hand and making threats on the other. Last year, the North unilaterally declared the nullification of the 1953 Armistice Treaty and threatened to risk another Korean War.
Q: What are the key parts of the Key Resolve exercise?
A: The exercise involves quick deployment to South Korea of U.S. troops and equipment, including fighter jets and nuclear submarines, from the U.S. Forces Japan, Guam and the mainland U.S in the event of an all-out war against the North. They include the F-22 stealth fighters, which are capable of launching surgical strikes on Pyongyang in just 20 minutes after leaving a base in Japan, and U.S. marines to be deployed to the Korean Peninsula within 24 to 72 hours after an outbreak of a war. In addition, the exercise examines the operational procedures for the U.S. nuclear umbrella against a nuclear attack from the North. During last year`s Key Resolve exercise, B-2 stealth bombers and B-52 strategic bombers flew into the South in a show of force. The muscle flexing was a warning to the North Korean leadership that its nuclear attack could result in dozens of times greater nuclear retaliations.
Q: How is this year`s Key Resolve different from that of last year?
A: The Key Resolve 2014 will apply for the first time a South Korea-U.S. joint preparation plan agreed last year for the North`s local provocations. Under the plan, the South Korean military would launch retaliation attacks in the event of a local provocation by the North, while the U.S. troops support the retaliation. For instance, if the North launches a large-scale artillery attack on the South`s frontline islands or the Seoul area, the South Korean military would immediately strike the source of the provocation and the commanding and supporting forces with K-9 self-propelled guns and fighter jets and then U.S. Forces Korea`s Apache attack helicopters and F-16 fighter jets would join the retaliation operation. The U.S. support forces would include the U.S. Forces Japan and the U.S. Pacific Command. The South Korean military also plans to examine the overall operational plans, including troop mobilization and the scale of retaliation, under some 30 provocation scenarios. This year`s Key Resolve exercise also applies for the first time the "tailored deterrence" strategy formed last year against the North`s threats of weapons of mass destruction. The tailored deterrence strategy involves diplomatic and military countermeasures under various scenarios of the North`s nuclear threats and provocations at wartime and peacetime.
Q: What is the drill that the North fears the most?
It is the South Korea-U.S. combined landing exercise conducted during the Foal Eagle exercise following the Key Resolve. The Foal Eagle is carried out in late March in the Pohang, North Gyeongsang Province area, involving the full landing forces of both the South Korean and the U.S. militaries, including some 10,000 marines of the two allies and the MV-22 Osprey, a tilt-rotor, vertical take-off and landing aircraft. The drill is conducted under a scenario, in which the South Korean and the U.S. marines land on the east and south coast areas of the Korean Peninsula to cut off the axis south of the Pyongyang-Wonsan line as part of a counterattack operation in the event of the North`s full-fledged invasion of the South. In addition, the North is wary of a mock operational drill by a task force within the Eighth U.S. Army for removing the North Korean nuclear weapons. In the drill, the team practices taking control over nuclear facilities across the North, including the Yongbyon nuclear facilities and uranium enrichment facilities, and secure nuclear materials.
Q: What is the economic value of the U.S. troops participating in the Key Resolve exercise?
The U.S. forces participating in the exercise is worth more than 30 trillion won (28.2 billion U.S. dollars), compared with South Korea`s 2014 defense budget of about 35.7 trillion won (33.6 billion dollars). North Korea is sticking to nuclear weapons development, as it believe that its conventional forces are no match for the U.S. forces. A South Korean military official said, "North Korea`s nuclear development is a means not only to maintain the system but also to recover its military inferiority to the U.S. forces in the event of a war.