SEOUL—For the first time in four years, the U.S. and South Korea will revive their live-action military drills, sharpening their preparedness as the North Korean nuclear threat worsens and China steps up its presence around Taiwan.
The 11-day joint drills, which kick off in South Korea on Monday, are again expected to feature jet fighters soaring through the skies, tanks rumbling down the roads and thousands of troops simulating a conflict with Kim Jong’s regime. A.
The annual summer training, known as Ulchi Freedom Shield, had been largely reduced to computer simulations since 2018. At the time, President Donald Trump, fresh from his first meeting with Mr Kim in Singapore , had ordered the reduction of training, criticizing it as costly and provocative. The then South Korean leader, who favored an engagement with Pyongyang, did not object to the move.
The United States and South Korea have said in recent years that readiness levels could be maintained despite the reduction in exercises. Retired South Korean military officials said preparedness suffered, adding that digital training did not replicate the shoulder-to-shoulder action required in war.
Some active-duty soldiers have even expressed concern about the lack of field exercises, said Cho Dong-youn, a former major in the South Korean army and professor of military studies at Seo Kyeong University in Seoul. . “Outdoor drills are essential for enhancing cooperation between U.S. and South Korean forces and practicing crisis management,” Ms. Cho said.
While a return to large-scale exercises signals the U.S. and South Korea are normalizing the alliance, the move will likely only encourage North Korea’s current move toward nuclear modernization, said Van Jackson, a former Pentagon official in the Obama administration currently in Victoria, New Zealand. University of Wellington. For the governments in Beijing and Pyongyang, the military exercises will justify their challenge to Washington and its allies, he added.
“They will bring China and North Korea closer together,” Jackson said, referring to the large-scale drills.
The political and security situation has changed in Northeast Asia since US-South Korea exercises were toned down in 2018. President Biden has made strengthening alliances a priority, while the South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, who took office in May, supports a hardening stance with the Kim regime. The two leaders, at a meeting in Seoul, agreed to expand field exercises and strengthen deterrence if necessary.
North Korea has restarted intercontinental ballistic missile testing and appears to be preparing for its first nuclear test since 2017. Russia has invaded Ukraine, while tensions between the United States and China have increased after a visit by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi in Taiwan.
The return to military training by the United States and its allies goes beyond joint exercises in South Korea. The United States, South Korea and Japan recently concluded missile detection and defense exercises in the waters off Hawaii, the first such combined training since 2017.
China has expressed concern over the expansion of US military exercises with its allies, saying it could increase tensions with North Korea. China is probably most concerned about US surveillance operations conducted during joint exercises, which may gather intelligence on North Korean and Chinese military installations with surveillance aircraft involved in the exercises, according to security experts.
Starting Monday, South Korea and the United States will conduct 11 joint field exercises, including exercises designed to simulate repelling a North Korean attack and exercises simulating joint attacks and the withdrawal of weapons. of mass destruction, according to the South Korean Defense Ministry.