December 11, 2018 09:41
The U.S. and South Korea are considering renaming their annual joint military drills in an apparent bid to avoid provoking North Korea with the boastful Pentagon word salad.
"The South and U.S. have been coordinating their plans for next year's training, and they have also been mulling the possibility of renaming them," a source at the Joint Chiefs of Staff here told the Yonhap News Agency.
The large-scale "Key Resolve" joint drills could be renamed "19-1 Exercise" and the "Ulchi-Freedom Guardian" exercises "19-2 Exercise," simply numbering the drills in the order they happen next year.
"We're referring to the annual exercises by the year they take place and any references to their joint nature is being eliminated," an officer here said. The JCS has already informed staff of the possible changes.
This year, the two sides canceled both drills amid hopes of North Korean denuclearization after U.S. President Donald Trump met North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in June.
Some joint drills are being replaced by computer simulations, though smaller maneuvers are still taking place.
"There were calls that changes needed to be made to existing drills in view of the prospect Kim visiting South Korea and another U.S.-North Korea summit early next year," a military source said. But a Defense Ministry official here said nothing has been decided and Seoul is "discussing these measures with the U.S. military."
The shift in terminology reflects changes to the nature of the exercises that have been discussed between the U.S. and South Korea in recent talks. Seoul and Washington have agreed that no U.S. troops will take part in the annual "Foal Eagle" drills scheduled in April of next year.
In previous years, around 10,000 U.S. troops joined some 290,000 South Korean soldiers. But some conservative pundits worry that a name change heralds deeper changes. Shin Jong-woo, a senior analyst at the Korea Defense and Security Forum, said, "It is going too far to change the names of the joint military drills at a time when they are being scaled down."
Others worry that any name change could signal weakening U.S. commitment to South Korea's defense. One researcher at a state-run think tank said, "Some U.S. officials are growing increasingly skeptical about North Korean denuclearization."
But a military officer said, "We are merely changing the names. That does not mean we're not going to hold joint military drills."
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