South Korea May Consult With U.S. About Scaling Back Joint Exercises If North Korea Suspends Nuclear Activities: Adviser

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David Maxwell:  When talking about scaling back or canceling ROK/US Alliance exercises we should consider why we have exercises in the first place.  The obvious reason is that training and readiness are perishable and must be sustained or military capabilities will atrophy and not be ready when contingencies arise.

In the context of Korea the timing of the exercises are most important.  We must keep in mind that the north Korea People’s Army conducts it Winter Training Cycle from November to March and during this period it begins with small unit training and progresses to high level combined arms training in preparation for an invasion of the South.  It brings its forces to the highest state of readiness to peak at the optimal time for attack of the South when the ground is still hard from the winter making mechanized maneuver more feasible and before the spring planting begins.

The Alliance conducts Key Resolve and Foal Eagle in March to bring ROK and US forces to their highest state of defensive readiness to deter an attack by the north.  This is why we have long conducted Team Spirit and now Key Resolve/Foal Eagle in March.

If we are going to consider scaling back or cutting the exercises then we must negotiate this as part of confidence building measures an demand that the north no longer conduct its Winter Training Cycle and prepare for its invasion of the South in return for canceling the alliance exercises.

As long as the north brings its forces to the highest state of readiness in March it would the height of irresponsibility for any President, ROK or US, to allow such a condition of strategic vulnerability by scaling back of canceling alliance exercises.

As to THAAD, Moon Chung-in has it backward.  It is not the ROK cancelation of THAAD that will break the alliance. It is his naive and ignorant belief that the US would not take all necessary and prudent measures to defend its forces from the very real north Korean missile threat.  By disapproving deployment of THAAD he would not only be forcing the US to place its forces at great risk to the north but he also puts his forces and his people at greater risk than without THAAD. He is demonstrating strategic ignorance and gross strategic incompetence by considering disapproving THAAD.  The US will not break the Alliance over THAAD but the ROK will break the Alliance by the actions of its President and his lack of understanding of strategic security considerations.  There are three risks in any military action. There is risk to the mission, risk to the force (and by extension the civilian population) and political risk because all military operations are designed to successfully achieve a political objective.  He is putting the mission of the defense of the ROK at great risk.  He is putting the ROK and US military forces and the Korean people at great risk.  He is doing this to protect himself from domestic partisan political risk which is a misunderstanding of strategic political risk.  He is putting President Moon’s stature above the risk to the strategic mission of the alliance and the protection of his forces and his people.
And do not get me started on the idiocy of OPCON transfer (because there is no OPCON transfer, only the dissolution of the ROK/US Combined Forces Command which would be the greatest strategic error made since 1950.)

(3rd LD) South Korea May Consult With U.S. About Scaling Back Joint Exercises If North Korea Suspends Nuclear Activities: Adviser

(ATTN: UPDATES throughout with briefing for reporters)

WASHINGTON, June 16 (Yonhap) — South Korea may consult with the United States about scaling back joint military exercises, such as downsizing the deployment of American strategic assets, if North Korea suspends nuclear and missile activities, an adviser to President Moon Jae-in said Friday.

Moon Chung-in, a foreign affairs scholar and special presidential adviser, made the remark during a Wilson Center seminar in Washington, saying President Moon has proposed the idea as part of an incremental solution to the nuclear standoff beginning with a freeze of the weapons programs.

“He proposed two things. One, if North Korea suspends its nuclear and missile activities, then we may consult with the United States to (on) scaling down ROK-US joint exercises and training. I think what he has in mind is we may scale down deployment of American strategic weapons over the Korean Peninsula,” the adviser said.

“Another one is linking North Korea’s denuclearization to creation of a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula. It is a much more complicated one. It could be much more complicated than the Iranian deal, but anyhow, he laid out those two guidelines to which he would pursue the denuclearization of North Korea,” he said.

The adviser later told reporters that U.S. strategic assets, such as aircraft carriers and nuclear-powered submarines, began participating in joint exercises only since several years ago, and scaling back their participation could help reduce tensions with the North.

Chances are low for the North to accept the proposal, but it’s still worth a try, he said.

“What’s important is to reduce tensions,” he said.

President Moon’s idea is to seek an “incremental, comprehensive, and fundamental solution” to North Korean problem as he believes “ultimate denuclearization of North Korea will take much longer period, longer time, most likely not during his tenure if he understands the realistic constraints,” the adviser said.

The offer to downsize joint exercises could be attractive to North Korea as Pyongyang has long denounced such maneuvers as a rehearsal to invade the country and demanded an immediate halt to them. It is unclear, however, how the U.S. would react to the idea because Washington has flatly rejected the North’s demand, saying such drills are purely defensive.

But the adviser said he believes the U.S. would see little problem with downsizing strategic assets deployment.

The adviser also said that the environmental assessment that South Korea plans to conduct over the U.S. THAAD missile defense system could take one year because the study should take into consideration the deployment’s impact over four seasons.

Earlier this month, South Korea suspended the deployment of an additional four THAAD launchers pending an environmental assessment, spurring doubts the halt might be a precursor to the South ultimately rejecting the THAAD deployment altogether. But Seoul has promised that the environmental review won’t lead to a reversal on the deployment itself.

Adviser Moon said that it’s wrong to say the alliance could break up over THAAD.

“THAAD is a weapons system, defensive weapons system. Does the alliance break up because of that?” he said. “It’s hard to accept to say as if THAAD is everything about the alliance,” he said.

Adviser Moon, an honorary professor at Seoul’s Yonsei University, arrived in Washington earlier this week on a mission to improve understanding among American opinion leaders of the new government’s foreign affairs and inter-Korean policy ahead of the summit between the two countries.

North Korea is expected be one of the top issues for Moon’s June 29-30 meetings with U.S. President Donald Trump, with a focus on how to reconcile Trump’s policy of “maximum pressure” on the North with Moon’s hopes to foster peace through exchanges and cooperation with the isolated neighbor.

The adviser said that President Moon plans to seek greater exchanges and cooperation with North Korea within the framework of international sanctions on Pyongyang, a remark seen as aimed at dispelling U.S. concerns that a softer approach by the South’s new liberal leader could end up blunting sanctions on Pyongyang.

The South seeks a peaceful coexistence or “de-facto unification” with the North through trust-building and exchanges and cooperation and won’t seek to absorb the North, the adviser said. The new government will also not tolerate the North’s provocations, he said.

The South should seek dialogue with the North if the North refrains from provocations, the adviser said.

“Is there any reason for us not to have a dialogue when North Korea refrains from provocations?” he said. “The point is to improve inter-Korean relations. It’s pretty clear that if the inter-Korean relations improved, it would have a positive effect on the missile and nuclear issues.”

The Moon administration also hopes to further strengthen the alliance with the U.S. and take back the wartime operational control (OPCON) of the country’s forces from the U.S. in order to reduce its dependence on the U.S. for its security and to enhance its defense capabilities, the adviser said.

But he said the OPCON issue is not expected to be a topic for the upcoming summit.

Moon Chung-in, special presidential adviser for unification, foreign and security affairs.Photo by: Yonhap
David S. Maxwell
Associate Director

Center for Security Studies
The Walsh School of Foreign Service
Georgetown University
Office: 202-687-3834
Cell: 703-300-8263
Twitter: @davidmaxwell161

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