SEOUL: South Korea and the United States were set to kick off their largest joint exercises in five years on Monday (Mar 13), after nuclear-armed Pyongyang warned such drills could be seen as a “declaration of war”.
Washington and Seoul have ramped up defence cooperation in the face of growing military and nuclear threats from the North, which has conducted ever more provocative banned weapons tests in recent months.
The US-South Korea exercises, called Freedom Shield, are scheduled to run for at least 10 days from Monday and will focus on the “changing security environment” due to North Korea’s redoubled aggression, the allies said.
In a rare move, the Seoul military this month revealed that it and Washington special forces were staging “Teak Knife” military exercises – which involve simulating precision strikes on key facilities in North Korea – ahead of Freedom Shield.
All such exercises infuriate North Korea, which views them as rehearsals for an invasion.
It has said its nuclear weapons and missile programmes are for self-defence.
“Pyongyang has military capabilities under development it wants to test anyway and likes to use Washington and Seoul’s cooperation as an excuse,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.
Last year, the North declared itself an “irreversible” nuclear power and fired a record-breaking number of missiles, with leader Kim Jong Un last week ordering his military to intensify their own drills to prepare for a “real war”.
SHIFT IN POSITION?
Washington has repeatedly restated its “ironclad” commitment to defending South Korea, including using the “full range of its military capabilities, including nuclear”.
South Korea, for its part, is eager to reassure its increasingly nervous public about the US commitment to so-called extended deterrence, in which US military assets, including nuclear weapons, serve to prevent attacks on allies.