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KEI Spotlight

South Korea, US Return to Large-Scale Military Drills

October 6, 2022

This article was published on The Diplomat on August 25, 2022.

After four years of scaled back military exercises designed to encourage negotiations with North Korea, the United States and South Korea have resumed large-scale military drills with Ulchi Freedom Shield. The resumption of large-scale military exercises should improve military readiness, but it will likely remain a point of contention in regards to North Korea’s nuclear program.

North Korea has long opposed joint South Korea-U.S. military exercises, which Pyongyang views as part the United States’ “hostile policy” and practice for an invasion. Prior to the beginning of Ulchi Freedom Shield, Kim Jong Un even accused the United States and South Korea of bringing the Korean Peninsula to the “brink of war.”

The United States and South Korea had scaled back military exercises during efforts at negotiations with North Korea under the Trump and Moon administrations. They initially began scaling back military exercises in early 2018 with the annual Foal Eagle/Key Resolve joint military drills. Those drills were delayed to avoid taking place during the PyeongChang Winter Olympics and ultimately shortened. They were also scaled back to avoid using strategic assets such as nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers to improve the environment ahead of the anticipated first summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un later that year.

Those were not the only changes to the drills in recent years. After the first North Korea-U.S. summit in Singapore, then-President Donald Trump announced that the U.S. and South Korea would halt large-scale joint military exercises. This, however, was a decision taken without consulting South Korea, some U.S. officials, or Kim Jong Un. Instead, Trump said he had decided to cancel the exercises to reduce costs.

The U.S. and South Korean militaries adjusted to the decision to end large-scale military drills by turning to computer simulations and small unit level exercises.

To read the full article on The Diplomat, please click here.