In response to the increasing nuclear threat from North Korea, the United States and South Korea kicked off their largest joint military exercise in years on Monday.
Given Pyongyang’s record-breaking weapons testing this year and its repeated threats of conflict with Seoul and Washington amid a protracted diplomatic stalemate, the drills could provoke an angry response from Pyongyang.
There will be thousands of troops, aircraft, and ships participating in the Ulchi Freedom Shield exercises in South Korea until September 1.
While Washington and Seoul characterize the drills as defensive, Pyongyang portrays them as invasion rehearsals and has used them to justify its nuclear weapons and missiles development.
There has been talk that Ulchi Freedom Shield, which began alongside a four-day South Korean civil defense training program led by government employees, will include exercises simulating joint attacks, front-line reinforcements of arms and fuel, and removals of weapons of mass destruction.
The allies will practice joint military and civilian responses to attacks on seaports, airports, and major industrial facilities like semiconductor factories, as well as train for drone attacks and other new developments in warfare that emerged during Russia’s war on Ukraine.
Regular U.S. and South Korean military drills had been suspended or scaled back to computer simulations in prior years to make room for the Trump administration’s diplomacy with North Korea and because of COVID-19 concerns.
Since the second summit between Trump and Kim Jong Un in early 2019 ended in failure, tensions have increased. U.S. officials turned down North Korea’s request for a partial nuclear disarmament in exchange for a partial lifting of sanctions in exchange for dismantling an aging nuclear complex. Because of the “gangster-like” U.S. pressure, Kim has now promised to increase his nuclear deterrent.
South Korea’s military has portrayed Ulchi Freedom Shield as a show of strength without disclosing the exact number of South Korean and U.S. troops involved in the exercise. According to a statement released by Seoul’s Defense Ministry last week, Ulchi Freedom Shield “normalizes” large-scale training and field exercises between the allies, which helps to strengthen their alliance and defense posture against the ever-changing North Korean threat.
The United States and South Korea used to hold annual large-scale joint exercises in the spring and summer.
Around 10,000 American and 200,000 Korean troops had participated in the live-fire drills during the spring exercises involving a variety of land, air, and sea assets. Summer drills involved tens of thousands of allied troops and focused primarily on computer simulations to hone joint decision-making and planning, although South Korea’s military has emphasized the revival of field training this year.
North Korea has rejected South Korean President Yoon Suk-offer yeol’s of economic benefits in exchange for de-nuclearization steps, so the drills come as no surprise. In Pyongyang’s eyes, Seoul is rehashing old ideas that Pyongyang has already shot down.
The sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Kim Yo Jong, has been increasingly vocal in her criticism of U.S. and South Korean military capabilities for monitoring the North’s missile activity, claiming that the South misread the launch site of the North’s most recent missile tests. Yoon called on Pyongyang to resume diplomatic efforts at a news conference on Wednesday.
More than 30 ballistic launches have taken place in North Korea in 2022, including the country’s first demonstrations of intercontinental ballistic missiles in nearly five years. Last week’s launches of two suspected cruise missiles extended this record pace.
According to experts, North Korea’s increased testing activity highlights the country’s dual intent to advance its arsenal and force the U.S. to accept the idea of the North as a nuclear power so that it can negotiate economic and security concessions from a position of strength.
There are signs that North Korea is getting ready to conduct its first nuclear test since September 2017, when it claimed to have developed a thermonuclear weapon to fit onto its ICBMs, and Kim Jong Un may soon up the ante.
Los Angeles Times was the first to publish this story.
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