Article by Min Soo Kim
On November 5th, the Korean Marine Exchange Program (KMEP), consisting of about 500 United States and South Korean marines, initiated small-scale military drills near Pohang City in North Gyeongsang Province. North Korea’s official party newspaper, the Rodong Sinmun, said these military activities violated the September 19th inter-Korean military agreement to eliminate the danger of war and resolve hostile relations. This agreement was ratified by South Korean President Moon Jae-In on October 23rd. It contains “the most significant changes in decades to the inter-Korean security environment,” including pledges to cease various military exercises along the Military Demarcation Line.
South Korea brushed off the claim that it had violated international law by ignoring this agreement and said that the drills were defensive in nature and involved “small units under the size of a battalion.”
Shortly before this incident, the 50th US-ROK Security Consultative Meeting (SCM) took place on October 31st, between the US Secretary of Defense James Mattis and ROK Minister of Defense Jeong Kyeong-doo. The United States supported the aforementioned inter-Korean agreement, evidenced by the agreement between the defense secretaries to “pursue a joint evaluation of a military exercise schedule for 2019 and to adjust the exercise schedule in a manner that seeks to maintain capabilities and readiness while reducing the scope, size, and public visibility of some exercises.”
The purported goal is to maintain readiness in a way supportive of diplomacy and less politically provocative to North Korea. However, as Scott A. Snyder points out, the lack of action on the part of North Korea to “pursue denuclearization negotiations” despite efforts to reduce conventional tension may paradoxically reinforce the “rationale for continued U.S. commitment to extended deterrence on the Korean Peninsula in the face of a continued North Korean nuclear threat.”
This brings us back to the recent issue over joint US-ROK military drills mentioned at the outset of this blog post. Indeed, on Nov 7th, the meeting between Mike Pompeo and Kim Yong Chol scheduled for the 8th, was cancelled.