Field maneuvers with U.S. grow under Yoon Suk-yeol
Large-scale field maneuvers during South Korea-U.S. joint exercises may take place regularly under President Yoon Suk-yeol's administration beginning in August, a shift from the previous administration's downscaling of the exercises to avoid angering North Korea, official sources said.
“Yoon’s government has expressed its clear commitment to normalizing joint exercises in talks with the United States, and we will gradually expand outdoor field maneuvers above the brigade level, which have been suspended until now,” said a diplomatic official who spoke to the JoongAng Ilbo on condition of anonymity.
Seoul and Washington have been weighing the idea of conducting large-scale field maneuvers during their combined command post training (CCPT) scheduled to take place from Aug. 22 to Sept. 1 to guard against North Korea’s evolving missile and nuclear weapons arsenal.
The North has conducted 18 missile tests so far this year and is expected to conduct a seventh nuclear test.
Under the Moon Jae-in administration, the allies did not conduct large-scale field training with the semi-annual CCPT, which is augmented by computer simulations.
According to the official, Washington’s support for large-scale field maneuvers by the allies remained constant, but the Moon administration viewed them as an obstacle to improving inter-Korean relations.
“The Biden administration was steady in its position that joint exercises form the core of South Korea-U.S. combined defense, but the Moon administration considered them a relic, leading to a gap between the allies,” said the official.
The scale of the joint exercises was reduced in the wake of the U.S.-North Korea summit in Singapore in June 2018. The Moon administration’s unofficial policy of downsizing the exercises was aimed at encouraging North Korea to denuclearize while also minimizing the risk of unintended conflict.
The exercises remained scaled down after denuclearization talks between the United States and North Korea broke down with the collapse of the 2019 Hanoi summit, leading to criticism that Moon’s administration was pursuing an overly submissive policy towards Pyongyang.
The North has regularly characterized the joint exercises as preparations for an invasion.
Comments from the Moon administration and then-ruling Democratic Party members last year suggested that they also saw the joint exercises as an obstacle to an end-of-war declaration that Moon announced in a speech to the United Nations General Assembly in September.
Speaking to reporters in a closed-door briefing in July last year, a high-ranking official from the Unification Ministry said that “it is desirable to postpone the joint exercises.”
In August, then-National Intelligence Service (NIS) Director Park Jie-won also told the National Assembly’s Intelligence Committee that it was “necessary” to approach the exercises with a “flexible attitude” to continue “the momentum of inter-Korean dialogue and realize North Korean denuclearization.”
Park’s comments appeared particularly mindful of remarks by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s powerful sister Kim Yo-jong that same month, in which she singled out the exercises as a stumbling block in inter-Korean relations.
“If the South conducts joint exercises with the United States, there will be no improvement in [inter-Korean] relations,” Kim was quoted as saying by Pyongyang’s state media.
The joint South Korea-U.S. exercises in August are just one of several being conducted by the allies to signal their readiness for a major North Korean provocation.
South Korea, the United States and Japan are also scheduled to conduct a combined missile detection and tracking exercise, known as Pacific Dragon, near Hawaii in August to guard against North Korean missiles.
Pacific Dragon will begin toward the end of the ongoing multinational Rim of Pacific Exercise (Rimpac) in Hawaii and southern California, in which South Korea is also participating.
BY MICHAEL LEE [email@example.com]