By John Frederick Kaufman
It is the opinion of The Pacific that the annual joint military exercises involving the United States and South Korea, which commenced again today, are not in the best interests of peace in that part of Asia.
While the war games are said to be defensive in nature, they act as an unnecessary provocation, for North Korea regards such joint military exercises in close proximity to the Korean Peninsula as threatening preparations for invasion. South Korea has often made clear that it is not considering invading the North. On Monday, South Korean President Moon Jae-in again tried to reassure the North Koreans:
“We have no intention of raising military tensions on the Korean Peninsula. North Korea should not use this as a pretext for provocation.”
But of course such war games raise tensions, at least in the minds of the North Korean regime. It should be noted that North Korea has offered to suspend nuclear bomb and missile tests if the U.S. and South Korea will stop the war games; given the long failure of diplomatic efforts to convince the North to cease its nuclear weapons program, such an offer should be seized upon. China has suggested just such a deal, and agreeing would allow the U.S. to gain more cooperation from China on many issues.
The U.S. is also regularly flying B-1 bombers based in Guam over the Korean Peninsula as a not so subtle form of military intimidation. No wonder, then, that North Korean leaders see sending a few long-range missiles to land in waters off Guam as a retaliatory sort of gesture.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration is talking of first-strike “preventive war” against North Korea, apparently without the blessing of the South Korean president, who told the South Korean people that he has veto power over any U.S. attack on the North and he won’t allow the U.S. to launch such an attack. Whether Trump and his cadre of military-advisors would abide by their deal with South Korea is anyone’s guess.
But if South Korea and the U.S. are truly serious about ending the nuclear stalemate with North Korea through diplomatic means, the least they can do is call off the war games as a opening gesture to see if North Korea is indeed willing to freeze its nuclear program and return to talks. Given all the tough talk and armed provocation emanating out of the White House directed at North Korea, a little verbal and military restraint on the part of the U.S. and South Korea may go a long way toward a chance at avoiding war.
“Preventive war” does not prevent war; only diplomacy and establishing of trust prevents war.