In June of 2023, the South Korean and United States military forces will celebrate their 70th anniversary of alliance in the largest joint military drill both nations have ever performed. Since 1977, both countries have performed eleven exercises as such. Yet, the joint South Korea-US military exercises have a troublesome scenario due to the sensible war history in the Korean Peninsula.
The Ministry of National Defense said the allies would demonstrate "formidable firepower and mobility on an unprecedented scale" in the planned drills amid North Korea's evolving nuclear and missile threats. The current political and military scene in the Korean peninsula is very much still shaped by its bloody history.
After losing World War II, the Korean Peninsula was divided by the 38th Parallel; the United States occupied the south and the Soviet Union the north portion. The United States greatly helped and supported militarily the South Korean government in many incidents such as the Yosu Rebellion. This event was one of the most important American operatives in Korea, the liaison and starting point between the American and Korean militaries and their intelligence. The American occupation in South Korea, although not free from controversies, was nevertheless the crucial point for the alliance of the two countries.
On the other hand, these military drills can cause tension with their northern neighbours. The north and south parts of the peninsula keep their relationship always on edge by displaying their military power. The columnist Kim Yeon-Chul, former minister of unification and current professor at Inje University, writes that “the scale of the springtime South Korea-US military exercises and North Korea’s responses have shaped the course of the year on the Korean Peninsula.
The Korean War was the first conflict culmination of the cold war between the United States and the Soviet Union that still marks its presence today. Between 1950 and 1953, the Koreas entered the conflict having each side supported by the United States and the Soviet Union, respectively. At the end of 1949, the victory of the Communists led by Mao Tse-tung in China served as the final motivation for the Soviet Union to make the North Koreans attempt an invasion in the south. In the north, the war provided Kim Il Sung with an opportunity to further consolidate his power. In South Korea, it helped pave the way for three decades of authoritarian military rule. The aftermath of the war resulted in many victims and a profound impact on the culture and the political scenario of Korea. It created a very unstable and sensitive relationship between the two Koreas.
Since the Korean War, the annual exercises have been suspended only twice. Both times, the suspensions changed the atmosphere on the Korean Peninsula and led to a “spring of peace.” The consequences of the Korean War are still alive in the peninsula, and the US-South Korea's bigger military drill to celebrate their alliance seems almost like a dangerous provocation to North Korea.
This year, both countries have fleshed out the program in the midst of joint efforts to reinforce discouraging North Korea's continued provocations, including the launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile last week. For the live-fire training set for June, the two sides will mobilize high-tech military equipment, including pieces integrating both manned and unmanned assets, to demonstrate the alliance's firepower and manoeuvrability.
As part of a larger annual gathering on security known as the Security Consultative Meeting, which will take place in Seoul after being held in Washington the previous year, the South Korean and US defence chiefs will jointly host a meeting in October with their counterparts at the United Nations Command, which handles matters involving the Demilitarized Zone.
The Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs in Seoul will host events in November to honour the sacrifices made by veterans during the Korean War, and the ministry will also contact nations that sent aid, troops or medical supplies to assist South Korea in rebuffing North Korea's invasion, which China backed. The ministry also noted that the South Korean veteran's minister would meet with his counterparts from those countries that had supported Seoul to reaffirm commitment to peace on the anniversary of the cease-fire, which was signed on July 27, 1953.
A roundtable to be co-hosted by the Foreign Ministry and the American Chamber of Commerce in Seoul by no later than June will review how the private sector can help the countries reach more economic goals they have so far achieved together, and later in the year. Foreign Minister Park Jin and his US counterpart will gather input from the private sector over sharing technological advances. Events aimed at strengthening Seoul-Washington business ties will also take place.
At the same time, at a meeting with the head of NASA, the primary organization overseeing US space exploration, Park stated that he expects space ties to take their alliance to the next level and that a joint space forum will be held by the end of the year to build on that.
However, The South Korean military reports that North Korea launched two ballistic missiles into the ocean off its east coast in retaliation for joint military exercises between the US and South Korea. The South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff (JSC) condemned the launches as violating United Nations Security Council resolutions and said it would continue military drills as planned. “We will keep a close eye on North Korea’s various activities and maintain a firm readiness posture based on the capability to overwhelmingly respond to any provocations,” said the JCS.
The missile launches, which marked North Korea's seventh this month, highlight the escalating military tensions in the area as the pace of both Pyongyang's weapons tests and the joint US-South Korean military drills have quickened recently in a cycle of tit-for-tat reactions. Washington and Seoul claim the exercises are defensive, while Pyongyang claims they are a practice for an invasion and occupation.
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