As tensions with North Korea escalated, the United States and South Korea began their biggest joint military drills since 2018 on Monday. Pyongyang sees the drills as a rehearsal before an invasion and could use it as a pretext to conduct more missile tests.
New summer manoeuvres. The United States and South Korea began their largest joint military exercises since 2018 on Monday (August 22) in the face of the growing nuclear threat from North Korea, Seoul announced.
Washington is a close security ally of Seoul. Some 28,500 US troops are stationed in South Korea to protect it from its nuclear-armed neighbour.
The two countries have long conducted joint military exercises which they insist on describing as defensive, while North Korea considers them a rehearsal before an invasion.
The “Ulchi Freedom Shield” manoeuvres mark the resumption of large-scale training between American and South Korean forces after their reduction due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and also mark a diplomatic failure vis-à-vis Pyongyang.
“Rebuilding the Alliance”
“The importance of this joint exercise is to rebuild the alliance between South Korea and the United States and to consolidate the common defence structure by trivializing (…) joint exercises and training in the field”, said the South Korean Defense Ministry.
No information on the manoeuvres scheduled for August 22 to September 1 has been released, but these usually include exercises involving aviation, warships, tanks and tens of thousands of soldiers. At a meeting last week, the two allies agreed to “expand the scope and scale of joint military exercises and training” in the face of the growing number of North Korean missile tests. This program will begin with the “Ulchi Freedom Shield (…) manoeuvres in order to strengthen joint preparation” for military operations by the two armies, they said in a joint statement.
Pretext for Pyongyang
According to analysts, North Korea could use these exercises as a pretext to conduct more tests. Earlier this month, Pyongyang threatened to retaliate “deadly” against South Korea, which it holds responsible for a recent outbreak of Covid-19 on its territory.
The threat came less than a month after Kim Jong-un said his country was “ready to deploy” its nuclear deterrent in the event of a possible military clash with the United States and South Korea.
Pyongyang has continued this year to carry out tests despite sanctions, including that of a long-range intercontinental ballistic missile for the first time since 2017. US and South Korean officials have also warned that the North Korean regime is preparing to conduct a seventh nuclear test.