“While we hope for diplomacy with North Korea to be successful, we all can recognize that hope is not a course of action,” U.S. Ambassador Harry Harris said at the eighth ROK-U.S. Alliance Forum on Tuesday. He added that ROK-U.S. alliance activities and training are designed to support peace on the peninsula and in the region, while ensuring that we maintain readiness, warning a “fateful day” to come without such readiness. Meanwhile, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said at a New Year’s press conference on Tuesday that a potential suspension of ROK-U.S. joint military exercises could be discussed through the inter-Korean joint military committee in response to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s request.
It’s highly unlikely that Ambassador Harris had President Moon’s comment in his mind. Rather, it was a general statement about his thoughts and the ROK-U.S. alliance as an outgoing ambassador. However, it is in odd contrast with President Moon’s comment, which indicates that the suspension of the ROK-U.S. joint military exercises can be up for negotiations with North Korea. In fact, it is unnecessary to mention that the joint military exercises, which concern the matter of sovereignty to defend the country, can never be haggled with a third party, let alone the North whose hostility is worsening day by day. Such common sense is being shaken under the current administration.
President Moon’s comment must be the result of his impatience to bring about any outcome in terms of the inter-Korean relations until the end of his remaining term. While the president admitted the limitations as a president in the fifth year in office, he expressed eagerness by saying that this is the last bit of time he has in office. He also did not hide his willingness to talk “any time, anywhere, even in a non-face-to-face way” even though it is time for the South Korean government to focus on managing the North Korea-related issues, rather than resolving them. His comment about the joint military exercises must have been a predetermined message for the North to bring the country to a negotiation table.
Such a nonsensical comment was made because President Moon has not shaken off the illusionary feelings about the summit in Pyongyang three years ago. He said Kim still has a clear willingness for peace, dialogue, and denuclearization. This is why the president gave a naïve answer that all can be resolved when the peace process becomes successful in response to North Korea’s threats to enhance its nuclear capabilities. The efforts for dialogue and military exercises share the same goal. However, the two should go together. If one of them is neglected, it will lead to submission or dissolution.