Marines from South Korea and the US take part in amphibious landing drills in April 2020. (Ministry of National Defense)
South Korea and the US will begin their biannual joint military exercises in the second week of March, carrying out computer simulations of war against North Korea for nine days, sources said Sunday.
Seoul and Washington, which have held them to deter aggression from Pyongyang since the 1953 Korean War armistice, now take part in computer-based war games rather than all-out field exercises.
The two allies still do not see eye to eye on testing Korea’s readiness to take over the wartime operational command from the US, which has been responsible since the war broke out. They skipped stage two a year earlier due to COVID-19 and have to finish stage three to complete the transfer.
Washington is seen as wary of bringing in its own troops – members of reserve forces holding other jobs -- because of the coronavirus, whereas Seoul is keen to test its readiness to assume the wartime role by May 2022. President Moon Jae-in promised to reclaim the role by that time when he leaves office.
“If we have the COVID-19 situation under control, we could see some of the US troops overseas making a trip here,” a military official said.
But even if the two allies were to test Seoul’s readiness this year, the deadline for the takeover the Moon government has in mind is seen as next to impossible to achieve.
Meanwhile, North Korean watchers speculate Pyongyang could repeat provocations to protest the joint drills, which leader Kim Jong-un uses to rally North Koreans in favor of the dynastic regime pursuing nuclear weapons at the expense of the moribund economy.
In January, the North demanded the South halt the drills to make way for an inter-Korean detente last seen in 2018, when they held summits. The diplomatic breakthrough was short-lived as Pyongyang blew up the inter-Korean liaison office last year to protest the anti-Kim leaflet campaign it accused Seoul of endorsing.
By Choi Si-young (firstname.lastname@example.org