US South Korea military exercises, Trump administration’s effort to ease tensions.
The U.S. military is preparing to announce that annual large-scale joint exercises conducted with South Korea every spring will no longer be held, according to two U.S. defense officials.
The major U.S.-South Korea exercises are being curtailed as part of the Trump administration’s effort to ease tensions with North Korea, the officials said. The exercises — known as Key Resolve and Foal Eagle — will be replaced with smaller, mission-specific training, according to the officials.
Since taking office, President Donald Trump has repeatedly complained about the large-scale exercises, saying they’re too costly and the U.S. bears too much of the financial burden.
The military has carried out the major exercises as much for deterring the North Korean regime as maintaining troop readiness, according to senior defense officials.
A U.S. official said military leadership is now working out how a series of smaller exercises and upcoming training can be used to ensure troop readiness. With the advancement of technology, some of the training can be done virtually and no longer requires thousands of troops, according to defense officials.
“The U.S. has identified ways to mitigate potential readiness concerns by looking at required mission tasks versus having to conduct large-scale exercises,” one defense official said.
But some experts on North Korea questioned whether the major exercises can be suspended without significantly affecting the troops’ ability to combat threats.
“That would run counter to what the military has been saying for decades,” said Bruce Klingner, a former CIA officer who tracked North Korea and is now a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation. “Militaries need to train.”
“If you continue curtailing your exercises, on what day has it reached catastrophic proportions?” Klingner added. “It’s hard to measure. But you know, over time, there has to be a degradation.”
U.S. officials insist the exercises and scenarios need to adapt to adjust to the changing situation in the region. A Pentagon spokesman declined to comment.
Word of the planned announcement comes less than 48 hours after a summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un came to an abrupt end with no agreement. Trump said afterward that the annual military drills with South Korea were “very, very expensive” and the government in Seoul should pay more for them.
U.S. officials said the decision is not related to the summit in Hanoi but has been under consideration for some time.
Following his first summit with Kim in Singapore last June, Trump announced that the U.S. would suspend large-scale joint military exercises, but smaller exercises and training have continued.
While the U.S. has pulled back on its exercises, North Korea has pressed ahead with its own drills. Gen. Robert Abrams, commander of U.S. forces in Korea, recently testified that North Korea was preparing to carry out its annual winter cycle of training with 1 million troops.
A South Korean government official said the larger exercises have gained a lot of media attention in the past and South Korea is “trying to carry on as usual with a very low-key media vibes.”