US, South Korea Plan Major Military Exercises Next Week

Jul 20, 2010
 
 
By Sarah Bulley
 
The United States and South Korea announced today their plan to hold joint military exercises “designed to send a strong, clear message to North Korea to stop its provocative and warlike acts.” Approximately 8,000 U.S. and South Korean troops will participate in the drills, scheduled to take place in both the Yellow Sea and Sea of Japan beginning next week.
 
According to the New York Times, the exercises themselves will be carried out on a large scale
 
The first of the exercises, to be conducted from Sunday to Wednesday in the Sea of Japan, are to include an American aircraft carrier — the nuclear-powered George Washington, one of the largest warships in the world — and 20 ships and submarines, and 100 aircraft, involving 8,000 men and women from the American and South Korean armed services.
 
The announcement was made while Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are in Seoul for a diplomatic meeting with South Korean officials, and to “show unity” after the sinking of the Cheonan in March. The visiting Secretaries also plan to attend an anniversary ceremony for the Korean War at Demilitarized Zone that separates North and South Korea.
 
China objects to the exercises scheduled to take place in the Yellow Sea, near its own territorial waters, and carried out by foreign militaries. China continues to support North Korea, and does not agree with South Korean findings that the North was responsible for the Cheonan sinking. Speaking to China’s concerns, Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen, also in Seoul for talks this week said
 
"The Yellow Sea, specifically, is an international body of water. And the United States always reserves the right to operate in those, in international waters. And certainly, I hear what the Chinese are saying with respect to that," he said. "But in fact we have exercised in the Yellow Sea for a long time and I fully expect that we'll do so in the future."
 
China is attempting to strengthen its naval influence beyond its traditional reach. Secretary Gates has said that the exercises are not intended to threaten China, but Beijing is wary. As Elisabeth Bumiller and Edward Wong wrote in the New York Times today:
 
The exercises come at a time when China is expanding the mission of its navy and asserting its sovereignty over waters claimed by other Asian nations. Chinese admirals say the navy is prepared to go beyond its traditional role of coastal defense and engage in “far sea defense” — sending ships to waters between the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Malacca to protect Chinese economic interests. The Chinese Navy is pushing operations into parts of the Pacific usually dominated by the United States Navy, and China is making bolder claims to portions of the South China Sea claimed by other Southeast Asian countries.
 
Regardless of China’s concerns, the true aim of the military exercises is to send a message to North Korea. In response to its unacceptable behavior “outside international norms,” the exercises are
 
“intended to send a signal to North Korea with regard to what has occurred post-Cheonan, and it is intended to signal to the region the resolve of this alliance and our commitment to one another and the scope and scale of our ability to operate together”
 
said Navy Admiral Robert Willard, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command. Last week from North Korea and the U.S.-led UN command on the Korean Peninsula met to discuss potential resolutions to current tense relations. Scheduled to meet again today, the North has been more open to dialogue and the resumption of six-party talks, while denying its involvement in the sinking of the Cheonan.
 
South Korean diplomat Yu Myung-hwan has expressed doubts that Pyongyang really wants to return to six-party talks or end its nuclear weapons program. Instead, they are attempting to shift pressure away from the regime following last week’s UN condemnation of the attack. Although not specifically blamed, the Security Council’s statement has brought more international attention to issue, Yu said.
 
“It is very regrettable that (North Korea) is trying to abuse the six-party talks to make an excuse to shun the global attention to the Cheonan incident.”
 
U.S. officials point out that major U.S.-South Korean exercises staged directly against North Korea have not been carried out for several years. The timing of the exercises could set back any efforts to get Pyongyang back to the negotiating table with other major powers. While the drills are intended to deter North Korea from further aggression, the message may be lost to a regime that is organized around the belief that it is under constant threat of attack from the United States and South Korea.