South Korea and the U.S. reportedly have agreed to hold joint military exercises in computer simulation on the second week of August and are discussing further details. It would be the same as the drills in the first half of this year, which were largely reduced in size and without outdoors training. It has been four years since the South Korea-U.S. joint military drills have been held without field training exercise since 2018.
This has been widely expected as there have been arguments within and outside of the South Korean administration and the ruling party to suspend or reduce the size of the military exercises since South Korean President Moon Jae-in said, “It would be difficult to hold large-scale training due to the COVID-19 pandemic.” It is interpreted that the Biden administration agreed to not provoke North Korea to bring it to the negotiation table as its North Korea policy prioritizes diplomacy.
But the decision is only making North Korea even more emboldened. The size of military exercises started to shrink on the premise that the North would continue discussions and stop provocations in 2018 when inter-Korean and U.S.-North Korea summits were held. But Pyongyang has been holding onto the ambiguous tensions between talks and conflicts, refusing all types of negotiations since the end of 2019. The North provokes South Korea with its short distance missiles without hesitation while pretending that it retrained itself from using nuclear and long-distance missiles, earning time to enhance its nuclear capacity.
Such abnormal situations have persisted for four years, which is creating concerns that our military readiness posture is weakening and the very existence of the U.S. troops in South Korea is becoming precarious. The joint military drills are the pillar of the South Korea-U.S. alliance along with the U.S. troops in South Korea and combined forces command. It is naturally difficult for the combined forces command to effectively respond to surprise military provocations of North Korea only with sub-battalion level drills without live training. This is exactly what the North intends.
The news came out when strategic assets such as manned and unmanned reconnaissance planes assembled at the sky near the Korean Peninsula. It is a measure to tighten up vigilance against large-scale provocations of North Korea around the Independence Day of the U.S. as the North Korean army started summer training on Thursday. But there are strong oppositions from those who want to soothe the North first rather than to show off power. This is why even North Korean leader Kim Jong Un mocks the U.S. and South Korea with puns that he would “prepare both for conversations and conflicts.”