On Monday, the United States and South Korea are set to commence a new series of joint defense drills, called Ulchi Freedom Guardian 2017. While these types of joint military exercises between the two nations occur with some regularity, however, Ulchi Freedom Guardian comes on the heels of a slight reduction in tensions on the peninsula, and as such, has drawn even more criticism from diplomatic opponents in the Pacific like China, and of course, North Korea.
If the United States is lost in a fantasy that war on the peninsula is at somebody else’s door far away from them across the Pacific, it is far more mistaken than ever,” a report published in North Korea’s government newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, said. “The Trump group’s declaration of the reckless nuclear war exercises against the DPRK … is a reckless behavior driving the situation into the uncontrollable phase of a nuclear war,” the North Korean outlet went on.
Ulchi Freedom Guardian is an annual drill, that has drawn criticism from North Korea in the past for serving as a “rehearsal invasion,” though American and South Korean diplomats have repeatedly assured the international community that these drills are defensive in nature, and designed to increase interoperability between the two state militaries, something of increasing importance in the face of potential war with North Korea. However, North Korea’s only ally, China, has echoed North Korea’s sentiments that these exercises serve only to heighten tensions between the United States-led allies in the Pacific, and Kim Jong Un’s North Korean regime.
The drill will definitely provoke Pyongyang more, and Pyongyang is expected to make a more radical response,” China’s state-run Global Times newspaper said in an editorial last week. “If South Korea really wants no war on the Korean Peninsula, it should try to stop this military exercise.”
As a part of its effort to counter the sentiment that these drills are intended as provocation instead of preparation, the Department of Defense released a statement indicating that the drills are nothing more than a “computer-simulated defensive exercise designed to enhance readiness, protect the region and maintain stability on the Korean Peninsula.”
It added that, although the United States and South Korea will see the most troops participating in the drills, United Nations Command forces from seven nations, including Australia, Canada, Columbia, Denmark, New Zealand, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom are all also expected to take part. Moreover, in an uncommon addition to press releases regarding military exercises in South Korea, the Pentagon made sure to include a portion regarding Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission observers, seemingly meant to assuage North Korean concerns.
Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission observers will monitor the exercise to ensure it complies with the 1953 armistice agreement, defense officials said. Training exercises like Ulchi Freedom Guardian are carried out in the spirit of the Oct. 1, 1953, South Korean-U.S. Mutual Defense Treaty and in accordance with the armistice,” the release reads.
Roughly 17,500 U.S. troops are expected to participate in the 10 day long exercises, with as many as 3,000 coming from installations outside of South Korea.
Image courtesy of the Dept. of Defense