Amid North Korean Threats, US and South Korea Begin Their Largest Drills in Years

US and South Korea Military Exercises
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As their defensive posture against the rising nuclear threat from North Korea being stepped up, the United States and South Korea launched their most extensive joint military training in years on Monday.

North Korea, which has increased its weapons testing activity to a record pace this year while constantly threatening war with Seoul and Washington due to a protracted diplomatic impasse, may react angrily to the drills.

Up to tens of thousands of soldiers might participate in the Ulchi Freedom Shield exercises, which are taking place in South Korea through September 1.

While Washington and Seoul characterize their drills as defensive, North Korea perceives them as invasion practice and has used them to defend the expansion of its nuclear and missile programs.

Ulchi Freedom Shield is reportedly going to include exercises simulating joint attacks, front-line reinforcements of arms and fuel, and removals of weapons of mass destruction. It began alongside a four-day civil defense training program in South Korea run by government employees.

The allies will also rehearse cooperative military-civilian reactions to attacks on seaports, airports, and important industrial sites like semiconductor plants. They will also train for drone strikes and other new advancements in warfare demonstrated during Russia’s conflict on Ukraine.

In previous years, in order to make room for the Trump administration’s negotiations with North Korea and out of concern about COVID-19, the United States and South Korea had scaled back some of their regular drills and reduced others to computer simulations.

Since the second meeting between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ended in failure in early 2019, tensions have risen. The Americans then turned down North Korean requests for a significant lifting of severe U.S.-led sanctions in exchange for the demolition of an outdated nuclear facility, which would have amounted to a partial North Korean nuclear capability surrender. Since then, Kim has promised to increase his nuclear deterrence in response to “gangster-like” American pressure.

The number of South Korean and American soldiers taking part in Ulchi Freedom Shield has not been disclosed by the South Korean military, but the exercise has been portrayed as sending a message of strength. Ulchi Freedom Shield, according to Seoul’s Security Ministry, “normalizes” extensive training and field exercises between the partners to assist enhance their relationship and their defense posture against the developing North Korean threat.

Every spring and summer, South Korea hosted significant joint exercises between the United States and South Korea before they were postponed or scaled back.

The spring exercises had featured live-fire simulations using a variety of land, air, and sea forces. Typically, 10,000 American and 200,000 Korean soldiers participated. Although South Korea’s military has prioritized the resumption of field training this year, tens of thousands of allied troops participated in the midsummer exercises, which mostly comprised of computer simulations to refine cooperative decision-making and planning.

The exercises come after North Korea rejected President Yoon Suk Yeol of South Korea’s “audacious” offer of economic advantages in exchange for disarmament measures last week, accusing Seoul of rehashing ideas Pyongyang has previously rejected.

Kim Yo Jong, the North Korean leader’s sister who is gaining prominence, called Yoon’s suggestion dumb and emphasized that the North has no plans to give away an arsenal, which her brother unmistakably views as his best chance of survival.

She sharply blasted Yoon for allowing South Korean activists to use balloons to cross the border with anti-Pyongyang propaganda and other “dirty rubbish” as well as for continuing military drills with the US.

She also mocked the military capabilities of the United States and South Korea to track North Korean missile activity, claiming that the South misread the location of the North’s most recent missile test on Wednesday of last week, hours before Yoon used a news conference to call for Pyongyang to resume diplomatic relations.

After threatening “deadly” action against South Korea in response to a recent COVID-19 outbreak, which Pyongyang allegedly says was brought on by pamphlets and other items circulated by southern activists, Kim Yo Jong made her remark a week later. There are worries that the warning foreshadows a provocation, possibly involving a nuclear or missile test or even border clashes, and that the North may attempt to inflame tensions at some point during the alliance drills.

Choe Jin, the deputy director of a think tank run by the North Korean Foreign Ministry, claimed last month in an interview with Associated Press Television that if the United States and South Korea don’t stop their hostile military pressure campaign against North Korea, which includes joint military drills, they will face “unprecedented” security challenges.

The North Korean missile testing tempo in 2022, which has included more than 30 ballistic launches and included the nation’s first intercontinental ballistic missile displays in in five years, was extended last week with the launch of two suspected cruise missiles.

According to observers, North Korea’s increased testing activity demonstrates its dual goals of developing its arsenal and getting the United States to recognise it as a nuclear state so it can negotiate security and economic concessions from a position of strength.

Indications point to the North preparing to conduct its first nuclear test since September 2017, when it claimed to have constructed a thermonuclear warhead to fit atop its ICBMs. Kim Jong Un may soon step up the ante.

 

Source: Boston Globe

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