Why the Focus of Korea-U.S. Military Drills Is Changing

      February 15, 2011 13:08

      This year's joint South Korea-U.S. military drills are to change significantly at Washington initiatives. U.S. joint chiefs of staff chairman Michael Mullen told his South Korean counterpart Lee Sang-eui at a regular meeting in Seoul in October 2009 that exercises preparing for an emergency in North Korea are needed, and U.S. Forces Korea Commander Gen. Walter Sharp, too, called for a change in the framework of the drill dubbed "Key Resolve/Foal Eagle."

      Over the last decade, Washington has repeatedly reinforced a contingency plan for what is grouped as "sudden changes" in the North, despite objections by the Roh Moo-hyun administration. When North Korean leader Kim Jong-il suffered a stroke in August 2008, Washington became even more convinced that an emergency could happen in the North at any time. One destabilizing factor could be the handover of power from Kim to his son Jong-un.

      The Barack Obama administration thinks that Kim Jong-il may not live another five years, so military drills are necessary to minimize the chaos on the Korean Peninsula in an emergency. But at the same time Washington believes that the chances that the North will wage a full-scale war, which was the focus of the previous drills, are diminishing due to its economic difficulties and obsolete military equipment.

      The primary reason why Washington is worried about these sudden changes in North Korea is the so-called weapons of mass destruction it is believed to have and which could fall into the wrong hands. That was also the U.S.' biggest concern when the Soviet Union collapsed. The North is estimated to have 50 kg of plutonium capable of making up to 10 nuclear weapons, and a certain amount of biochemical weapons.

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