June 20, 2018 11:59
South Korea and the U.S. on Tuesday announced the temporary suspension of the joint Freedom Guardian drills scheduled for August while denuclearization talks with North Korea go on.
This is the first time in 26 years that joint military exercises is suspended.
The drills, which have been staged in August every year, consist of the Ulchi defensive command post exercise staged by the South Korean government and the Freedom Guardian computerized command and control training by South Korean and U.S. troops. Only the second will be suspended.
The decision was originally announced by U.S. President Donald Trump after his recent summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore, apparently as a goodwill gesture as he basked in the glow of their newfound harmony.
Kim in turn promised to dismantle a major missile test site, according to Trump.
Cheong Wa Dae suggested that Seoul could also suspend the Ulchi drill. Presidential spokeswoman Kim Eui-kyeom said, "We're just mulling the possibility. No decision has been made yet. The issue is still under discussion."
Defense Ministry spokeswoman Choi Hyun-soo said, "We agreed to 'suspend,' which means stopping it temporarily while the U.S. and the North continue denuclearization talks," suggesting they could resume if things go wrong.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has indicated that the deadline for the North's nuclear disarmament is January 2021, when U.S. President Donald Trump's term in office ends.
"No decisions on subsequent war games have been made," Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said. But there are growing concerns that spring Key Resolve and Foal Eagle exercises could be suspended.
This could leave the two countries ill prepared for an emergency.
The suspension of the joint drills could lead to the downsizing and disbanding of the Combined Forces Command and the eventual withdrawal of the U.S. troops from South Korea, which Trump has also flagged for some point in the future.
The raison d'être of the CFC is to head combined operations in wartime and joint exercises in peacetime. But the wartime command is to be handed over to Seoul in the next few years. If joint exercises no longer take place, there is little reason for it to operate at its current size.
South Korean military authorities are reportedly considering carrying out their own training in an effort to calm security fears.
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