Amid heated arguments about the need to delay or scale down the scheduled ROK-U.S. joint military exercises in March, the U.S. Department of Defense expressed a negative stance over the issue. In particular, the Pentagon unusually used the term “non-provocative” to describe the nature of the joint military drills in stressing the need to conduct the exercises.
In an interview with The Dong-A Ilbo, Pentagon spokesman John Supple refuted the remarks by South Korea’s Unification Minister Lee In-young that hinted at delaying the scheduled joint military exercises to improve inter-Korean relations by saying military readiness is the number one priority of the defense department. Supple said North Korea’s continued development of nuclear and ballistic missiles is posing a threat to the Korean Peninsula and the U.S. and the joint military exercise is a major way to ensure the readiness of the alliance. The spokesman went on to say that the exercises are non-provocative and completely defensive, and aim to maintain the readiness of the alliance so that they are ready to fight tonight. Supple added that the two sides (South Korea and the U.S.) will decide on the scale, scope, and timing of the joint military exercises with these considerations in mind.
The Pentagon must have emphasized that ROK-U.S. joint military exercises are non-provocative and defensive ahead of the scheduled joint military drills in order to stress that the drills do not get in the way of improving inter-Korean relations or promoting inter-Korean dialogue. It is also a refutation to the arguments of South Korean civic groups, such as the Southern Committee on June 15th Joint Declaration, that the joint military drills are a very provocative and costly war practice.
The U.S. Department of Defense has reaffirmed its stance that joint military exercises will not be delayed or scaled down except for unavoidable reasons, such as COVID-19. An official said the South Korean unification minister’s suggestion to delay joint military drills is worrisome since U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) have already begun administering COVID-19 vaccine to military and USFK-affiliated workers.