The Republic of Korea and the United States have agreed to “conclude” the Key Resolve and Foal Eagle (KR/FE) joint military drills. The announcement came three days after the unexpected outcome of the Hanoi summit between President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un and is, as a result, generating a good deal of interest in its implications.
But while there are concerns that the decision to end the drills may negatively impact the ability of South Korea and the U.S. to deter aggression from North Korea, it is this author’s opinion that there will be no degradation in the allies’ readiness.
First, this announcement and recommendation was made after a deliberate assessment by the commander of U.S. Forces Korea and the Chairman of the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS). Their conclusion was that they were confident that despite ending the KR/FE exercises, they could maintain readiness.
Secondly, the end of the KR/FE exercises does not mean an end to all combined exercises between the United States and the Republic of Korea, as well as other UN sending nations. The scale and scope and the timing of combined exercises will coincide with the changing situation on the Korean peninsula. In future, it is the understanding of this author that the combined exercises will be much more flexible.
This will be tougher on the commander more than anyone else, but the end result will be the retention of a “Fight Tonight” capability.
It is this author’s opinion that there will be no degradation in the allies’ readiness
Third, with the conclusion of KR/FE, future combined exercises on the Korean peninsula can be less “provocative” and still be effective. This is the job of the Korean and U.S. commanders and I am confident it is their top priority.
The Republic of Korea Joint Chiefs of Staff (ROKJCS) has announced that the new scaled down exercise will be named “Dong Maeng,” a Korean word for “alliance.” The new name seems to imply that the future combined exercises will be a more Korean-led exercise, but at the same time that it will have maintaining and improving alliance capabilities as its main objective.
ROK JCS also announced that this year’s Dong Maeng exercise will begin on 4 March and last for a week, sufficient time to practice and train the new staff on their duties and procedures.
Finally, the tactical proficiency of the troops is an all-year endeavor. The fact that the United States Second Infantry Division is now officially called the ROKUS Combined Division illustrates the fact that there is a good number of Koreans at the staff level and at every echelon that work side by side with their U.S. partners.
These are an addition to the long and very successful KATUSA (Korea Augmentation to The United States Army) soldier program. This will be a significant enhancement for the ROK military that will not be captured in statistics.
North Korea, despite numerous promises not to do so, has developed nuclear weapons. After six nuclear tests and over sixty missile launches of various ranges, Pyongyang announced that it could reach the continental United States with its new capabilities.
Then in a speech in April last year, Kim Jon Un unilaterally announced the cessation of provocative nuclear tests and long range missile launches, With this new attitude, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was able to meet with, not only the South Korean leader Moon Jae-in but also the president of the United States. The U.S.- North Korean summits were in themselves a great gift, and an opportunity, to Kim Jong Un.
In September of 2018, North and South Korea agreed to a Comprehensive Military Agreement to ease tensions along the DMZ, which allowed much-needed North Korean resources to be diverted to other priorities.
The decision to end KR/FE brings an end to exercises that Pyongyang has long condemned as aggressive and provocative, and serve as a tangible and significant good faith and confidence building move.
The decision to conclude Key Resolve and Foal Eagle is another gift and an opportunity
North Korea seems to have been able to maintain the charade of economic prosperity, even under increasingly strict sanctions. New and colorful buildings in Pyongyang, high profile construction efforts, and occasional imports of luxury items for the Great Leader seem to strengthen this view.
But all other indicators seem to indicate that North Korea will be economically challenged to the level of crisis unless sanctions are eased or lifted in the near future.
If North Korean nuclear weapons are for the Kim regime’s survival, the DPRK leader must now must look at what needs to be done for those sanctions to be lifted, and exchange his nuclear capability for peace.
The decision to conclude Key Resolve and Foal Eagle is another gift and an opportunity — and one that Kim should appreciate. It also highlights the commitment of the United States and South Korea to continue the peace process, despite the disappointment in Hanoi.
Kim Jong Un ought to respond with concessions of his own.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: South Korean Ministry of National Defense
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