U.S., S.Korea Again Call off Major Drill
The United States and South Korea have suspended another major military exercise in a continued push for diplomacy, the Pentagon said Friday.
Chief Pentagon spokesperson Dana White said the two militaries would suspend their joint air exercise, dubbed Vigilant Ace, in order to "give the diplomatic process every opportunity to continue."
The decision was announced following trilateral talks among U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and his South Korean and Japanese counterparts. The defense ministers are in Singapore for an Association for Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) defense ministers' meeting.
The suspension of the air exercise follows a number of U.S. military decisions in the past year aimed at persuading North Korea to negotiate a verifiable path to giving up its nuclear weapons.
The United States and South Korea delayed their first large-scale exercise of the year, Foal Eagle, so it would not clash with the Winter Olympics. Later they canceled Ulchi-Freedom Guardian, their second large-scale joint exercise that had been scheduled for August.
That cancellation came after an unprecedented June summit between U.S President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore, where Trump announced the U.S. would stop what he called "provocative" and "expensive" "war games" with South Korea.
The U.S. military characterizes its joint exercises on the Korean Peninsula as "defensive" in nature rather than "provocative," a term frequently used by China and North Korea to describe the drills.
James Schoff, with the Washington-based research group the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said on Twitter Friday that the latest suspension will make it "difficult to ramp back up" military exercises on the peninsula without provocations from North Korea. He said the move would give Pyongyang an incentive to "stay calm," but cautioned that the militaries could not suspend exercises indefinitely.
Retired Lt. Gen. Tom Spoehr, a former deputy commander of U.S. forces in Iraq who now works at the conservative Heritage Foundation, criticized the air drill suspension Friday. He said the U.S. should "not accede to North Korean demands to cancel them unless the north shows more tangible signs of seriousness in seeking peace and stability."
Vigilant Ace is an annual exercise that is usually held in December. Many smaller-scale military exercises have continued on the peninsula and across the region, but the U.S. general nominated to be the next commander of American forces in South Korea pointed out during his confirmation hearing last month that the major military exercise suspension has caused "slight degradation" to military readiness on the peninsula.
When asked how many large-scale exercises could be skipped before a "significant decline in readiness," Army Gen. Robert Abrams told Senate members it was "hard to judge."