US, South Korea Expected to Scale Back Joint Military Drills
The U.S. and South Korea are expected to announce they will significantly scale back annual large-scale joint exercises.
Media reports quoting unnamed U.S. defense officials say the official announcement is expected in the coming days. A Pentagon spokesperson declined to confirm the reports when contacted by VOA.
Scaling back the exercises could be seen as a good faith gesture to keep nuclear talks with North Korea alive following the failed Hanoi summit, and to address President Donald Trump’s concerns over the high cost of these massive demonstrations of force.
The annual joint drills known as Foal Eagle and Key Resolve, which are usually conducted in the spring, were first postponed in 2018 to facilitate North Korea’s peaceful participation in the PyeongChang Winter Olympics that were held in South Korea.
President Donald Trump suspended the exercises indefinitely after meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un last June in Singapore, where the two leaders agreed to work toward the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
Trump had long been critical of the cost of these joint exercises that bring in thousands of troops, fighter jets, war ships and other military assets from U.S. bases around the world.
The president was asked about the future of the military drills at the recent Hanoi summit, where Trump and Kim failed to agree on specific measures to reduce the North’s nuclear capabilities, nor to ease crippling economic sanctions imposed on Pyongyang.
“You know, the military exercises, I gave that up quite a while ago because it cost us $100 million every time we do it. We fly these massive bombers in from Guam, and when I first started a certain general said, ‘oh, yes sir, we fly them in from Guam, it’s right next door.’ Right next door is seven hours and then they come and drop bombs and go back,” said Trump.
U.S. military leadership is reportedly planning to replace the large-scale drills with a series of smaller exercises and training, and implementing technology-based virtual exercises instead of deploying thousands of actual troops for the war games.
The scaling back of the joint exercises could also be part of the Trump administration’s efforts to offer North Korea some incentive to continue to engage in nuclear talks, short of reducing the economic sanctions that the U.S. says will remain in place until a substantial and irreversible reduction in Pyongyang’s nuclear capabilities is achieved.
“He’s going to lower the military tension at the moment and keep it low, but he is going to keep the economic sanctions on. And let’s see if North Korea comes in with a more reasonable bargaining position,” said Patrick Cronin, the Asia-Pacific Security Chair at the Hudson Institute.
The U.S. military justified these large scale joint military exercises in the past as defensive in nature and necessary to maintain operations readiness.In recent years the drills included an increased the number of troops and firepower in a show of force to counter the North’s continued missile and nuclear tests.
North Korea has denounced the U.S., South Korea joint exercises as aggressive provocations and rehearsals for war.
VOA Korean service reporter Connie Kim also contributed to this report.