The South Korean military authorities are postponing the announcement on the ROK-U.S. joint military exercises Key Resolve and Foal Eagle even after their schedule has been provisionally settled. Previously, the South Korean military said it would make a final decision by December last year, but it has been delaying the announcement, citing the need to coordinate the schedule with the United States. In fact, Seoul and Washington have drawn an internal conclusion that they would start to conduct Key Resolve, a command post exercise, on March 4 for 10 days, and Foal Eagle, a field training exercise, on March 15 for two months. But the South Korean military has made an official answer that it is still discussing whether the two countries will conduct their annual joint military drills this year, even after the announcement on the second U.S.-North Korea summit in Vietnam slated on February 27 and 28.
Pundits in Seoul say the latest moves by the military reflect the atmosphere of negotiation between Washington and Pyongyang. Following an exchange of handwritten letters, the two countries have even confirmed the specific dates for their second summit meeting, and this applies pressure to Seoul in making an announcement on the joint military exercise with Washington. Some predict that the drills might not happen soon as President Trump has emphasized the necessity to postpone the drills during the denuclearization talks, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has also detested the South Korea-U.S. military exercises.
“The schedules already announced are closer to a “Plan B” designed to make the North come back to the negotiation table in the event the denuclearization talks break down,” said a source from the military. Another official pointed out to the possibility where Mr. Trump makes a surprise announcement to delay the military drills on his Twitter or Seoul and Washington make a joint announcement on it right before the start of the summit in Vietnam. Furthermore, if the upcoming Trump-Kim summit produces something of a “Big Deal” and Kim’s schedule to visit Seoul is fleshed out, it would inevitably affect the rest of the joint military exercises this year with Washington.
Since last year, some South Korean military insiders have been arguing that the joint drills with the U.S. have been swayed too much by the denuclearization talks. "There is a growing concern within the military that the ROK-U.S. joint military drills, which was the symbol of their alliance, is being reduced to a variable subordinated to relations between Washington and Pyongyang as well as Trump’s 'America First' doctrine," an official from the authorities said.
Sang-Ho Yun firstname.lastname@example.org