Joint Drills Could Be Watershed in N.Korea Crisis

      August 21, 2017 12:52

      Top U.S. brass are converging in Seoul as joint military exercises by the U.S. and South Korea start Monday. The heads of U.S. Pacific Command and U.S. Strategic Command arrived on Sunday, while the director of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency is on his way. The U.S. officers apparently plan to observe the drills and hold a joint press conference with South Korean military chiefs.

      The three officers are in charge of strategy and troop deployment, strategic weapons and missile defense in case a war breaks out on the Korean Peninsula, and it is unprecedented for the three to converge on Seoul at the same time. Their presence means that the drills include the deployment of strategic bombers and missile defense systems.

      This is expected to be a watershed in the North Korean nuclear standoff. Although tensions have eased slightly as the North called off ostensible preparations to attack the U.S. territory of Guam and the U.S. touted diplomatic efforts before military options, the fundamental threat remains.

      North Korea has demanded that South Korea and the U.S. halt joint military drills and warned Sunday that the exercises would lead to "catastrophe." If the North conducts another nuclear or missile test, the timing could coincide with Sept. 9, which marks North Korea's founding day. The fact that top U.S. brass are in Seoul shows how tense the situation is.

      President Moon Jae-in said in a speech marking the 72nd anniversary of liberation from Japanese occupation last week, "Without the consent of [South Korea], no country can determine to take military action." But those comments will fall on deaf ears in North Korea. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un could test another intercontinental missile and seek to drive a wedge between the allies. The conditions are ripe. Seoul needs to remain extremely vigilant.

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