U.S. respects South's opting out of military exercisesThe United States respects South Korea’s decision to not participate in a U.S.-led multinational naval exercise in the Black Sea, a Pentagon spokesman said Tuesday, noting that Seoul’s absence does not affect the alliance between the two countries.
“It’s a sovereign decision by a nation state. They’re certainly entitled to make that decision and to speak to that decision, and we absolutely respect it,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said in a press briefing.
According to the South Korean military on June 23, the U.S. requested via Ukraine that South Korea take part in the Sea Breeze 21 exercise, which kicked off on June 28 and will continue until July 10. The exercise involves approximately 5,000 troops from 32 countries, including NATO members.
The U.S. Sixth Fleet’s website said that this year’s exercise boasts the largest participation in the program’s history. South Korea is listed as one of the participants, along with Japan.
However, while the Defense Ministry and Navy acknowledged that they were invited, they said they have no plans to participate or observe the drill.
Kirby said South Korea had a right to make its own decision regarding the exercise and that its non-participation would not negatively affect the countries’ bilateral alliance.
“I don't think they would have been invited if there wasn't a genuine desire to have them participate in whatever way they deemed fit,” Kirby said. “They've obviously chosen not to participate, and we respect that. It doesn’t change the strength of the alliance or our commitment to the people of South Korea or our security commitments there on the peninsula.”
Seoul reportedly decided to not participate in Sea Breeze 21 after considering the strategic environment surrounding the Korean Peninsula, including Russia’s role and relations with both Koreas, as well as the lack of availability and capacity to deploy ships to the Black Sea.
Launched in 1997, Sea Breeze is a U.S. and Ukrainian-led multinational exercise that forms part of an effort by Washington, its allies and regional partners to keep Russia’s military expansion in the region in check.
Following Russia’s armed annexation of Crimea in 2014, the exercise has taken on added significance and potential danger because the United States, Ukraine, and the majority of Sea Breeze participating nations do not recognize the peninsula nor the surrounding waters as Russian territory.
The Russian Defense Ministry said June 23 one of its patrol ships fired warning shots at a British warship which sailed 1.6 miles into Russia’s territorial waters. Britain insisted the ship was making a routine journey through an internationally recognized travel lane and remained in Ukrainian waters.
In lieu of participating in Sea Breeze, Seoul said on Monday that it will take part in another U.S.-led naval exercise that will also involve Australia.
The country plans to send a 4,400-ton-class destroyer to the planned military drill, called the Talisman Saber, to be held next month. The drill involves joint exercises across six locations in northern and central Australia, the Coral Sea, and in Honolulu, Denver, and Suffolk, Virginia, although most of the exercises will take place in Australian waters.
BY MICHAEL LEE [firstname.lastname@example.org]