Ending US-South Korea Military Exercises Key to Diplomacy

Ann Wright reports that Blinken, rather than acknowledging the danger of these exercises, has criticized their suspension as an appeasement of Pyongyang.

2012: A South Korean soldier briefs Army Gen Martin E. Dempsey, U.S. chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on points of interest at the demilitarized zone. (DoD, D. Myles Cullen)

By Ann Wright

One of the thorniest foreign policy challenges the Biden administration will need to face is a nuclear-armed North Korea. Talks between the U.S. and North Korea have been stalled since 2019, and North Korea has continued to develop its weapons arsenal, recently unveiling what appears to be its largest intercontinental ballistic missile.

As a retired U.S. Army colonel and U.S. diplomat with 40 years of experience, I know all too well how actions by the U.S. military can exacerbate tensions that lead to war.

That’s why the organization I am a member of, Veterans for Peace, is one of several hundred civil society organizations in the U.S. and South Korea urging the Biden administration to suspend the upcoming combined U.S.-South Korea military exercises.

Due to their scale and provocative nature, the annual U.S.-South Korea combined exercises have long been a trigger point for heightened military and political tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

These military exercises have been suspended since 2018, but Gen. Robert B. Abrams, commander of U.S. Forces Korea, has renewed the call for the full resumption of the joint war drills. U.S. and South Korean defense ministers have also agreed to continue the combined exercises, and Biden’s secretary of state nominee Antony Blinken has said suspending them was a mistake.

Rather than acknowledge how these joint military exercises have proven to raise tensions and provoke actions by North Korea, Blinken has criticized the suspension of the exercises as an appeasement of North Korea.

And despite the failure of the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign against North Korea, not to mention decades of U.S. pressure-based tactics, Blinken insists more pressure is what’s needed to achieve North Korea’s denuclearization. In a CBS interview, Blinken said the U.S. should “build genuine economic pressure to squeeze North Koreato get it to the negotiating table.”

Antony Blinken in 2016. (State Department, Flickr)

Unfortunately, if the Biden administration chooses to go through with the U.S.-South Korea joint military exercises in March, it will likely sabotage any prospect of diplomacy with North Korea in the near future, heighten geopolitical tensions, and risk reigniting a war on the Korean Peninsula, which would be catastrophic.

Since the 1950s, the U.S. has used the military exercises as a “show of force” to deter a North Korean attack on South Korea. To North Korea, however, these military exercises — with names such as “Exercise Decapitation” — appear to be rehearsals for the overthrow of its government.

Consider that these U.S.-South Korea combined military exercises have involved the use of B-2 bombers capable of dropping nuclear weapons, nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and submarines equipped with nuclear weapons, as well as the firing of long-range artillery and other large caliber weapons.

Thus, suspending the U.S.-South Korea joint military exercises would be a much-needed confidence-building measure and could help restart talks with North Korea.

At a time when the world is facing urgent humanitarian, environmental and economic crises, the U.S.-South Korea military exercises also divert critically needed resources away from efforts to provide true human security through the provision of health care and the protection of the environment. These joint exercises cost U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars and have caused irreparable injury to local residents and damage to the environment in South Korea.

On all sides, the ongoing tensions on the Korean Peninsula have been used to justify massive military spending. North Korea ranks first in the world in military spending as a percentage of its GDP. But in total dollars, South Korea and the United States spend vastly more on defense, with the U.S. ranking first in military spending worldwide (at $732 billion) — more than the next 10 countries combined — and South Korea ranking tenth (at $43.9 billion). By comparison, North Korea’s entire budget is just $8.47 billion (as of 2019), according to the Bank of Korea.

Ultimately, to stop this dangerous, expensive arms race and remove the risk of renewed war, the Biden administration should immediately reduce tensions with North Korea by working to resolve the root cause of the conflict: the longstanding 70-year-old Korean War. Ending this war is the only way to achieve permanent peace and denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

Ann Wright is a 29-year U.S. Army/Army Reserves veteran who retired as a colonel. As a former U.S. diplomat, she resigned in March 2003 in opposition to the war on Iraq.  She served in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia and Mongolia.  In December 2001 she was on the small team that reopened the US embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan.  She is the co-author of the book Dissent: Voices of Conscience.  

This article is from Truthout and republished with permission.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

Donate securely with Paypal


Or securely by credit card or check by clicking the red button:




13 comments for “Ending US-South Korea Military Exercises Key to Diplomacy

  1. Andrew Nichols
    January 30, 2021 at 21:45

    Ann Wright reports that Blinken, rather than acknowledging the danger of these exercises, has criticized their suspension as an appeasement of Pyongyang.

    Well there’s no surprise. Neither is there any surprise that our state friendly media still fail to critically cover the unresolved Korean Peninsula through anything other than the 70 yr old Cold war Imperial mindset.

    America IS the sole remaining obstacle to ending this war as much as it is in the ME with its mates the Israelis.

  2. January 30, 2021 at 09:59

    The joint South Korean-American military exercises, regular events, have long been a very troubling thing for North Korea, as indeed they are meant to be.

    When a hostile country holds large-scale military exercises on your border, it is always something about which you must be on very high alert because you never know when such an exercise will suddenly become a genuine attack. It is a ploy used by others in the past.

    It would be comparatively easy for the US to end these, and a signal of good will, but it refuses to do so.

    And it is just the same for the American-organized large-scale military exercises with NATO in Europe on Russia’s doorstep. Russia must be on high alert when these take place.

    Such situations greatly increase the possibilities of error among anxious troops. That is exactly what we saw in Ian with the accidental downing of a civilian aircraft when Iran was put under tremendous military pressure by the US after it wantonly assassinated General Soleimani, an Iranian national hero.

    In all these instances and others, it is the US staging an elaborate and threatening war dance. Do you think that fact might just point to something about the highly aggressive nature of America?

    North Korea, on its own, bothers or threatens no one, And the same for Russia. Indeed, today’s Russia is ready to cooperate and work with anyone on economic projects. From Washington’s point of view, that is likely its greatest crime.

    And whenever we speak of North Korea, we cannot neglect America’s atrocities in the Korean War. Three years of carpet bombing which killed one-fifth of the entire population. A series of war crimes like the massacre of civilians at No Gun Ri. And documented efforts with biological weapons in North Korea and nearby China.

    Those are the real reasons for North Korea’s sacrificial efforts at creating a credible nuclear defense.

    When it comes right down to it, almost all the serious problems on the Korean Peninsula have American roots. Today’s reasonable and intelligent South Korean President, Moon Jae-in, isn’t even allowed to deal with North Korea as he was inclined to do.

  3. January 30, 2021 at 01:12

    The biggest obstacle to peace are US Army Generals. American troops arrived in Korea in 1945 and never left. South Korea eventually prospered and became a major economic and military power, but American Generals plan to occupy Korea forever. They exaggerate the North Korean threat, ignoring that South Korea has twice its population, 53 times its economic power measured by GDP, and a modern military that is roughly five times stronger than the decrepit North Korean Army. American occupation troops should have left four decades ago, but President Jimmy Carter’s effort to withdraw was thwarted by Generals. The US military remains to deter peace and block unification in order to retain South Korea as a vassal state.

    see: youtube.com/watch?v=oG1b-bCVJzY

  4. Jeff Harrison
    January 29, 2021 at 20:32

    Nothing will get better until the US stops trying to be the global hegemon. The warmongers in the white house make it like a non-stop running of Pinky & The Brain. Pinky: What are we going to do this week, Brain? Brain: What else? Hatch another plan for world domination.

  5. C. Parker
    January 29, 2021 at 18:02

    I am pretty sure more effort and money will be spent to continue this seventy year war than would be spent to bring national healthcare to Americans, even during this pandemic. We are all prisoners of war.

  6. January 29, 2021 at 17:00

    Can South Korea not indefinitely halt its participation in joint military exercises? It can simply vote on formally ending the war with North Korea, request that the U.S. withdraw its military presence from the peninsula (not that this is likely to happen), and, if so desired, begin negotiations for eventual reunification—without involving the occupying United States of America. What is preventing it?

    • Andrew Nichols
      January 30, 2021 at 21:46

      A colony does not call the shots..

  7. Cadogan Parry
    January 29, 2021 at 16:32

    Trump’s abject obeisance to the warmongering pro-Israel Lobby kept his “maximum pressure” campaign focused on the Persian Gulf (not the Korean peninsula).

    Trump expanded U.S.-Israel joint military exercises and increased the dangerous, expensive, regionally destabilizing sales of weapons and military technology to Israel and Gulf states.

    Trump’s final act, ordering U.S. Central Command responsibilty for coordinating military activities with Israel, dramatically increases the likelihood of war initiated by unilateral Israeli military actions.

    Ending unconditional U.S. support for Israel’s aggression and illegal occupation/annexations in Palestine can immediately reduce tensions with Iran and help resolve the root cause of regional conflict.

  8. rosemerry
    January 29, 2021 at 16:24

    North Korea is NOT intending to attack the South, or of course the USA, but is trying to defend itself against the threatened attacks by the USA. The two Koreas did have some thawing and cooperation during Trump’s term, but of course the PTB in the USA stopped that at once. South Korea does not need protection from the North, and the USA’s interference in the South has for years had destabilising effects within South Korea.
    The USA needs to reduce its “exercises” with most of the “allies” as all they do is cause conflict.

  9. Randal Marlin
    January 29, 2021 at 15:48

    The more North Korea is confronted by displays of overwhelming military might by the U.S./South Korea alliance, the more North Korea will view a nuclear deterrent of its own as essential to keep it from being overwhelmed.
    Who cannot see this? Only people who do not want to see it, people not interested in reason and truth. I thought Trump had been dispatched, not rehired under the name Antony Blinken.

    • Andrew Nichols
      January 30, 2021 at 21:47

      Antony Blinken? Blinkered more like

  10. Mark Thomason
    January 29, 2021 at 15:12

    The US maintains a firm grip on high level command of South Korean forces. That is the original point of these exercises.

    That might prevent the South from launching a war that would draw in the US, but the real risk of war is the other way, the US drawing South Korea into an adventure against the North.

    That would better position forces to continue where 1953 left off, but events have long moved on from that structure of forces and interests.

    The US control of South Korea is no longer a force for peace, nor even a force advancing real US interests.

  11. Tony
    January 29, 2021 at 13:11

    Yes, even Trump recognised the problems the exercises caused.

Comments are closed.