JOINT US AND SOUTH KOREAN DRILL BRINGS HEIGHTENED TENSION TO THE REGION

August 2012

 

BLUF:

The largest military exercise since the Korean War involving the United States, South Korea and Japan has alarmed North Korea and China.

OBSERVED:

The 62nd Anniversary of the start of the Korean War was marked by the largest live-fire military drills since the conflict.  The United States and South Korea participated in one day drills that involved 2,000 troops from both countries, Apache helicopters, A-10 Thunderbolts, and the US aircraft supercarrier USS George Washington.  The drills where carried out on Friday June 22nd in Pocheon, located northeast of Seoul.  These drills coincided with other drills involving the US, South Korean and Japanese navies.

The carrying out of the drills was immediately condemned by North Korea calling them a “precursor to an invasion and even a small clash could lead to a full-scale regional war.”  This type of rhetoric from North Korea typically follows any military drills in the area.  During the drills, one incident in particular furthered the North Korean outrage over the war games.  The US and South Korean military used the North Korean flag as a target to mark the “enemy”.  The official statement from North Korea was issued on Sunday June 24th and condemned the action saying, “It is an extremely grave military action and politically motivated provocation to fire live bullets and shells at the flag of a sovereign state without a declaration of war.”

The North’s National Peace committee of Korea said in a statement that the drills are “reckless” and push the Korean Peninsula and the region “to the brink of a war.”  Other comments from North Korea stated that these exercises threaten to bring a “new cloud of war” to the peninsula.

Senior researcher Baek Seung-joo at the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses stated in the South Korean newspaper the Chosun Ilbo that “rather than actually feeling threatened, Pyongyang realizes the exercises in the South are for defensive purposes, but issues criticism to promote solidarity among North Korean citizens by emphasizing a sense of crisis.”  Consensus among analysts point to this being a message sent to North Korea that the US is ready to stand with the South in the face of any threats from the North.  South Korea’s defense ministry said in a statement that the drill was “aimed at checking solid military preparedness and war- fighting capabilities against enemy provocation.”  Pentagon spokesman Capt. John Kirby said that there was no great significance behind the two naval exercises, other than practice.  China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said in reference to these drills, “China believes the international community, especially countries in the Asia-Pacific region, should contribute more to ensuring the peace and stability of the Korean peninsula, as well as the Northeast Asia region, not making things worse.”

ASSESSMENT:

[ + ] As the US realigns itself in the Asia-Pacific region these drills offer the chance to strengthen alliances with Japan and South Korea.  This trilateral combination of the three militaries helps the US secure a strong position in East Asia.  With almost 30,000 troops stationed in South Korea and others in Japan, this relationship and cooperation between the three nations benefits the US and their ability to exert military influence in the region.

[ – ] South Korea is used to these types of threats from the North.  However, with an inexperienced dictator and increase in military attacks from North Korea, South Korea will be watching the unpredictable North very closely.  These drills and the following reaction from the North gives South Korea reason to be ready for anything.

[ – ] China sees these drills as a direct part of the shift in American presence in the Asia-Pacific region.  China remains an ally with North Korea, although distant and at times disapproving.  China is concerned about the strengthening of military ties between the US, South Korea and Japan.  South Korea and Japan are two of the biggest nations in the region economically behind China.  China regards these exercises as the US continuing to interfere in the Asia-Pacific region.

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