President Donald Trump has stunned the Korean Peninsula by announcing the stoppage of U.S.-South Korean annual war games that have long been defended as defensive and vital by the allies. (June 12)
President Trump’s pledge Tuesday to suspend joint U.S. military exercises with South Korea will be a welcome concession to North Korea, which has frequently complained that the drills are a preparation for war.
But halting the annual exercises would not represent a major sacrifice for the United States, which has suspended the military drills before in an effort to lessen tensions on the peninsula. They can be restarted quickly.
Most recently the Pentagon agreed to delay planned military exercises during the Olympics, which were held in South Korea, after the North agreed to participate. The exercises were held after the Winter Games ended.
The exercises were also suspended between 1994 and 1996 in an attempt to improve conditions during diplomatic talks with North Korea. The diplomatic efforts ultimately failed and the exercises resumed.
President Trump said he would halt the annual exercises during a press conference after his summit with Kim Jong Un. He termed the exercises “provocative.”
“This would be a substantial concession to North Korea’s security concerns,” said Alison Evans, an analyst at IHS Markit, a firm that tracks security issues.
The military exercises, which often involve ships, aircraft and thousands of troops have been conducted for decades on the Korean peninsula.
The Pentagon has said they are critical to maintain the readiness of U.S. and South Korean forces, which could be called on to defend against an attack from North Korea, which has an active duty force of one million troops and thousands of artillery pieces and rocket launchers aimed at the South.
In a press conference after the summit Trump suggested suspending the exercises would be a cost-saving measure.
It’s not clear how South Korea will react to the suspension. South Korea’s president, Moon Jae-in, has been pushing the United States and North Korea to reconcile their differences and would likely support the offer.
But Moon’s opponents consider U.S. military support as critical to the defense of South Korea. The United States has more than 25,000 troops based in South Korea.
Trump said he would like the troops to “come home,” but there were no plans to do so now.
In a statement the Pentagon suggested there was no change in guidance yet from the White House.
The statement said the Defense Department would continue to work with the White House, other agencies and “our allies and partners on the way forward” following the summit.
The statement said the Defense Department would provide more “information as it becomes available.”
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