The U.S. and South Korean governments have announced the suspension of the joint military exercise [Ulchi] Freedom Guardian, which was scheduled for August. The U.S. and South Korean militaries conduct major drills three times a year. The suspended drill is a tabletop military exercise that assumes an all-out war triggered by a North Korean invasion.
In the joint statement released after the U.S.-North Korea summit, U.S. President Donald Trump and Workers’ Party of Korea Chairman Kim Jong Un expressed the view that mutual confidence building can promote the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. The suspension of the joint drill is understandable if it improves the relationship between Washington and Pyongyang, which have been hostile to each other since the Korean War, and contributes to the North’s denuclearization.
The latest U.S.-North Korea agreement is based on the idea that mutual trust should be built before denuclearization. The U.S. and South Korean governments canceled their joint military exercises in the early 1990s to spur the North’s denuclearization. The decision whether or not to conduct a drill sends a diplomatic message. So we hope North Korea will respond appropriately.
However, we cannot help but worry about President Trump’s approach.
Trump described military exercises as “war games” and raised the cost issue, saying they’re “very expensive.” He also said the joint drills are “very provocative” and that conducting them is inappropriate.
Further, Trump showed a willingness to withdraw U.S. troops from South Korea in the future. Though he denied an immediate withdrawal, his remarks seemingly gave us a glimpse of his true feeling that calculations of monetary profits and loss have priority over the security issues. Worse still, there was concern that the U.S. did not conduct prior consultation with South Korea, a party concerned, before deciding the suspension of the drill.
It can be said that the U.S. is poised to resume military exercises depending on the North’s actions and that the cancellation of the recent drill is tentative. Be that as it may, we are left with a sense of anxiety that the drill’s cancellation will weaken the U.S.’s deterrence capability.
Japan publicly showed understanding for the drill’s suspension. But some within the government caution that cancellation of the drill may affect the Japan-U.S. alliance.
Chairman Kim has visited China three times in the past three months and has been balancing diplomacy between the U.S. and China. Some people point out that North Korea is in an advantageous position amid the power games among major countries. Complete denuclearization is expected to be full of twists and turns.
The Cold War structure that still prevails in Northeast Asia has started to become fluid. Insufficient communication with allies could cause misunderstanding and mistrust. Discussions with relevant countries are absolutely necessary.