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Why did the US and South Korea scale down joint military drills?

  • 4 Mar 2019

Although North Korea and the US failed to reach an agreement over the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula at a recent meeting in Vietnam, Washington and Seoul departed from the tradition of carrying out massive 'war games'.

Deck crew members stand on the flight deck of the Nimitz-class USS George Washington during joint military exercises between the U.S. and South Korea in South Korea's East Sea on Monday, July 26, 2010. ( AP )

The US and South Korea have decided to cancel the two large-scale joint military drills Key Resolve and Foal Eagle.

Known as the US-South Korea ‘war games’, the exercises are carried out to project military strength to neighbouring North Korea. 

But this time, the US and South Korea decided to scale down the military exercise in an attempt to send a positive message to North Korea and boost “diplomatic efforts to achieve complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in a final, fully verified manner," according to the US Department of Defense. 

South Korea’s military said that the two countries will organise smaller exercises instead, and depart from the tradition of holding the large-scale war games in March.

“Exercise Dong Maeng provides us the opportunity to train and rehearse with our Republic of Korea, United States, and United Nations Sending State Partners,” US and South Korean leaders said in the joint military statement.

The war games have long been considered a preparation for the invasion of North Korea.

Since US president Donald Trump’s historic meetings with Kim Jong-un last year, Washington has also delayed other military drills in the region.

Trump and the North Korean leader met last week at the Hanoi Summit in Vietnam to reach a deal over the US sanctions and the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula. However, the meeting abruptly ended after the two sides failed to reach an agreement.

Trump later said in the news conference that the breakdown occurred over North Korea's insistence that all punishing sanctions the US had imposed on the country should be lifted without Pyongyang committing to eliminate its entire nuclear arsenal.

The US nuclear umbrella for South Korea and Japan

The United States has long carried out military exercises in Japan and South Korea to set up what many experts describe as "a nuclear umbrella" to protect its allies against any possible threat from archrival North Korea.

There are also several US warships and aircraft carriers routinely on duty in the region.

The map shows the US nuclear umbrella which includes military bases and aircraft carriers in Northeastern Asia.(TRTWorld)

The nuclear umbrella, which the US built with military bases and warships, poses a threat for the North Korean side. Both the US and North Korea want to remove each other’s nuclear weapons from the table.

Analysts believe North Korea has 20 to 60 nuclear warheads which could threaten the US mainland if fitted to its intercontinental ballistic missiles. The United Nations and the United States ratcheted up sanctions when North Korea conducted nuclear and ballistic missile tests in 2017. 

Washington has demanded complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation before sanctions can be lifted, a position Pyongyang has denounced as “gangster-like."

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