The US and South Korea began annual joint military drills Monday on the Korean Peninsula, defying warnings from the North that such exercises could lead to an “all-out war” between Pyongyang and Seoul.
The annual Key Resolve and Foal Eagle joint drills come after North Korea and the South failed to reach any major agreements in their military talks last month, amid heightening tensions on the peninsula resulting from an exchange of artillery fire in November.
Key Resolve will mainly involve live-fire exercises and computer simulations of wars, while Foal Eagle will include field training.
Seoul and Washington have been arguing that the drills are merely annual military operations and are “defensive in nature,” but Pyongyang sees the US-South Korean joint exercises as “very dangerous military moves” and a “serious challenge.”
Pyongyang had warned that it would respond to the war games with “resolute military measures” and go on “an all-out offensive” to put an end to “the US military occupation” of South Korea.
Cai Jian, deputy director of the Center for Korean Studies at Fudan University, told the Global Times Monday that although the US and South Korea hold such military drills annually, they have added new exercises that make it hard to fathom they are merely defensive drills.
“Parts of drills are meant to prepare for sudden changes in Pyongyang, such as a regime change or the breakdown of the North Korean government. These will be extremely provocative in the eyes of the North, which could see the drills aimed at toppling its government,” Cai said.
Additionally, the South has drawn the ire of the North by flying balloons into the North carrying news of recent Middle East and North Africa uprisings, along with basic household goods that are in short supply in North Korea, a lawmaker said last week.
Lü Chao, director of the Korean Research Center at China’s Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times that “the military drills and the psychological war are provocative actions by South Korea and the US aimed at intimidating the North, but it is unlikely that Pyongyang will bow down to such pressure, considering its past responses to more serious provocations.”
“The war games will only further intensify regional tensions,” he added.
Separately, South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency quoted an anonymous senior official of the presidential office Monday as saying that Seoul had no plan to seek the return of US tactical nuclear weapons to the Korean Peninsula, adding that the 1991 declaration for the denuclearization of the peninsula “remains valid.”
The official’s comments came after media reports that Gary Samore, US President Barack Obama’s top nuclear adviser, said the US would agree to redeploy tactical nuclear weapons if South Korea made an official request.
Agencies contributed to this story