WASHINGTON — The Pentagon’s consideration of holding larger scale military exercises in South Korea has inflamed North Korean officials, who are threatening to resume nuclear testing if the maneuvers occur.
The U.S. had suspended large-scale military exercise after the first summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in June 2018. The gesture was designed to spur North Korean to begin to take steps toward de-nuclearizing the Korean peninsula.
For the most part, however, Pyongyang has not taken such steps.
“With the U.S. unilaterally reneging on its commitments, we are gradually losing our justification to follow through on the commitments we made with the US,” North Korea’s foreign ministry said in a statement on Tuesday, according to news reports.
He did not mention that North Korea promised not to test weapons, but reneged on that promise in May by testing a short-range missile.
Roughly 30,000 U.S. troops are in South Korea and have been holding smaller-scale military drills with South Korean troops and others since June 2018. However, the large war games were stopped or reduced in scope.
The military exercise under consideration, “Dong Maeng,” would run from Aug. 5-23.
“Republic of Korea and U.S. military forces are preparing to conduct a combined training program this fall. Working with the ROK, this training program has been adjusted to maintain readiness and support diplomatic efforts,” Lt. Col. Dave Eastburn, a Pentagon spokesman, said in a statement.
The exercise will be a new one, designed to fill the space of military drills that had been cancelled, Pentagon officials told TMN on Wednesday.
In June, then-Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said the U.S. will not seek to resume high-level military exercises on the Korean peninsula, despite North Korea’s failure to continue negotiations to denuclearize the region.
Shanahan said then that the current military exercise plan with South Korea and others on the peninsula “is sufficient.” He said he was told by senior military leaders that troops have the required military readiness despite the suspension of so-called Tier One exercises.
Pentagon officials have given mixed reports when asked, while testifying on Capitol Hill, about the cutback in training. Some say it has not damaged readiness significantly; others warn it is creating a less ready force.
Negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington were at a standstill when Trump and Kim met in the DMZ last month, and Trump stepped into North Korean territory. Talks had ceased and a month earlier North Korea stopped all cooperation and searches for the remains of U.S. service personnel missing from the Korean conflict.
Among the Tier One exercises suspended were Ulchi Freedom Guardian, a two-week exercise that consists predominantly of computer-simulated defense drills held in August; two Korean Marine Exchange Program training exercises scheduled to take place over three months in the fall of 2018; the major end-of-the- year exercise, called Vigilant Ace; spring exercises Key Resolve and Foal Eagle, and Max Thunder, an annual joint air training exercise.