President Donald Trump surprised the world in June last year when, following his historic first summit with Kim Jong Un, he announced that “provocative” military exercises on the Korean peninsula would end.
Neither the South Korean government nor the militaries of the Republic of Korea or the United States were consulted in advance. Despite this, they made every effort to support the political decision of the U.S. and South Korean President and the broader diplomatic process.
Since then, close to a dozen combined ROK-U.S. exercises have been canceled, with the Ulchi Freedom Guardian and Key Resolve/ Foal Eagle exercises brought to a complete end.
South Korea and the U.S. have put every effort into eliminating all provocative aspects of their drills, when there were any: they even went so far as changing the name of the exercises from “Dong-Maeng” (Alliance) to a numerical designation in symbolic support of the political efforts by Seoul and Washington.
Follow-on training events have been carefully tailored to support the political initiatives taking place on the Korean peninsula. Overt actions are carefully avoided to ensure that no misunderstandings that might disrupt peace talks and negotiations arise.
North Korea seems to underestimate the significance and value of these adjustments. South Korea and the United States do not expect the North Koreans to stop their routine training, but the fact that North Korea demands all routine combined training in South Korea ceases only raises questions about the sincerity of Pyongyang’s intentions.
South Korea and the U.S. have put every effort into eliminating all provocative aspects of their drills
At the same, North Korea has come very close to breaking its side of agreements made in Singapore last year by conducting a number of ballistic missile tests, with one as recently as Saturday.
Kim Jong Un alleges that the modified ROK-U.S. training event is a violation of the Singapore agreement and that newly-deployed weapon systems, especially the F-35 Stealth aircraft, are offensive weapons of war.
Firstly, Kim must understand that one third of the Republic of Korea Air Force’s (ROKAF) aircraft will be obsolete in a couple of years. It needs replacements and, naturally, we have selected a fifth generation aircraft that will provide safety to the Korean people as well as to the pilots flying them.
They will never be used to attack anyone, only to defend our nation if we are the victims of aggression. Almost all countries, except North Korea, possess these kinds of weapons, and I am sure that as the DPRK becomes more affluent that they themselves will seek to acquire stealth aircraft.
Secondly, training events this month are strictly defensive, aimed at training new staff on procedural issues. Unlike North Korea, where military personnel serve in a position for ten or more years, South Korea and U.S. have an annual turnover that sometimes reaches fifty percent.
We need to train to teach our new people what their job is and how to do it. Although reports have suggested that more provocative “Stability Operations” are to be included in this year’s event, in this author’s opinion that is highly unlikely.
Unless North Korea has ulterior motives for making these demands, Kim Jong Un could request the UN provide an impartial review of the training that is monitored by the Swiss, Swedish and Polish delegations to the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission every year.
North Korea could also accept the many invitations that are made by the South Korean government and the United States, as well as the United Nations Command, to observe the training.
Training events this month are strictly defensive, aimed at training new staff on procedural issues
Finally, Kim Jong Un and North Korea must never underestimate the integrity of the South Korean military and some of the important training that is included. Laws of war, ethics, humanitarian aid and relief, and religious affairs are just a few of the issues that are trained and discussed.
Without these training events, lack of preparedness will undoubtedly lead to mistakes. A well-trained military is essential and fundamental for national security, but also peace and the prevention of unintended incidents between the two Koreas.
This month’s training event has been designed to ensure that it supports the peace efforts of the United States and the Republic of Korea.
Despite much criticism and concern from the general public, the United States and South Korea have responded to a series of ballistic missiles launched by the North with restraint and patience.
The ball, as always, in Kim Jong Un’s court. South of the border, he’s fast running out of friends.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: U.S. PACOM
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