In Defense of Military Exercises

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In Defense of Military Exercises

The joint military exercise between South Korea and the United States, code-named Ulchi Focus Lens, is being staged in curtailed form after North Korea's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Fatherland (CPRF) issued a critical statement. As it was, the South Korean government had planned to switch the goal of the exercise from battle preparedness to disaster prevention. The contents of the exercise were further diluted after the CPRF warned on August 19 that if the United States and South Korea went ahead with the exercise, the inter-Korean relationship was liable to return to its frigid state before the 15 June Declaration.

It is understandable why a South Korean government official said that the exercise would be altered to befit the changed security environment on the Korean Peninsula since the inter-Korean summit. Nevertheless, has the peninsula's security climate made such leaps over the last two months to warrant the scaling down of the Ulchi Focus Lens? Instead of issuing a warning, North Korea should have suggested that an inter-Korean military commission be established to ease military tensions.

Military exercises are conducted because the possibility of war or conflict exists. In particular, the purposes of Ulchi Focus Lens are crisis management in the South Korean government and the reinforcement of crisis management for the US-Korea Joint Command at the beginning stages of a war. North Korea has put forward the argument that the exercise poses a threat to the North. If so, should not the preparation of a forum to discuss the elimination of mutual threat be the order of the day?

In a word, the recent inter-Korean reconciliation and cooperation should not detract from the value of military exercise. We have yet to hear that North Korean Forces ceased their military exercises at the threshold of this new era. A few days ago, the American State Department pointed out that North Korean Forces conducted a military exercise this summer.

One of the South Korean government's principles in its North Korea policy is that it will not tolerate armed provocation by the North. However, six years ago the South Korean government halted a joint US-Korea military exercise code-named Team Spirit. Furthermore, South Korea kept a low profile in the recent Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) six-nation maritime exercise, in consideration of North Korea's feelings. If the South Korean government intends to scale down military exercises whenever the North protests, will it also diminish the scale of the US-Korea Joint Command Reinforcement Exercise and the Eagle Exercise? Going a step further, what about the US-Korea joint defense and the relationship between the two allies?

by Cho Hyun-wook

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