U.S., South Korea vow ‘show of force’ in military exercises aimed at North Korea


SEOULThe United States and South Korea on Tuesday announced joint major military exercises for next week, a show of force aimed at North Korea in response to the sinking of a South Korean warship in March.

The naval and air exercises, which will take place in the Sea of Japan and include the aircraft carrier George Washington, were announced in a statement by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and South Korean Defense Minister Kim Tae-Young after a meeting in Seoul.

“These defensive, combined exercises are designed to send a clear message to North Korea
that its aggressive behavior must stop, and that we are committed
together to enhancing our defensive capabilities,” the statement said.

The exercises, which officials said would begin July 25, have been in the works since the March 26
sinking of the Cheonan, which killed 47 South Korean sailors and raised
tensions on the Korean peninsula. A South Korean-led investigation
concluded that the vessel was struck by a North Korean torpedo, though Pyongyang has denied involvement.

Adm. Robert F. Willard, head of
U.S. Pacific Command, emphasized that the drills were the first in a
series of exercises that set for the coming months in the Sea of Japan and the Yellow Sea, in addition to large-scale maneuvers involving U.S. and South Korean ground forces.

“One of our goals is to deter North Korea from further provocations,” Willard told reporters. “Whether or not this series of exercises singly will deter North Korea remains to be seen, but it is a first step.”

He said that North Korea’s
sometimes brazen actions over the years, including the firing of
ballistic missiles and other acts, raised questions about whether the
secretive regime in Pyongyang will be deterred from similar acts by a show of force.

The goal of the U.S.-South Korean response “is to
send a very clear signal that this is not business as usual. Their
behavior needs to change,” he said.

In remarks to reporters earlier in the day, Gates emphasized the difficulty of putting effective pressure on North Korea, whose relations with the outside world often appear aimed at creating periodic crises as a way of creating leverage.

North Korea
is about as isolated as a country can get,” Gates said. “I think this
is an ongoing challenge that has to be managed over a period of years,
and I think that the pressure continues to build slowly on the north.”

At a meeting with troops at Camp Casey on Tuesday morning, Gates said he and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who arrives in Seoul on Wednesday, would visit the Demilitarized Zone on Wednesday along the border with North Korea.
Gates said the visit to the 155-mile-long buffer, which is heavily
guarded by hundreds of thousands of combat-ready soldiers on both
sides, would show “our strong commitment to” South Korea.

The initial drills later this month will involve 20
U.S. and South Korean ships and submarines, as well as 200 aircraft,
including the advanced F-22 fighter, which will be flying training
missions in and around Korea for the first time, according to a statement issued by the U.S. and South Korean militaries.

Analysts here said the high-profile visit by both Gates and Clinton was a reminder that the U.S. views South Korea
as a key Asian ally. The two Koreas technically remain at war because
the four-year Korean War did not end in 1953 with a peace treaty, only
a truce.

“For the U.S., the visit signals a critical commitment both to your adversaries and your alliance partner,” said Daniel Pinkston, North East Asia Deputy Project Director for the nonprofit International Crisis Group. “They want to shore up their alliance with Seoul, while reminding Pyongyang that their commitment is credible and formidable.”

Yet experts say that Washington must walk a fine line. Its goal is to move past the Cheonan disaster and focus on bringing North Korea back to the six-party anti-nuclear talks, analysts said.

The United States wants to clinch this issue and move on,” said Chung Young-chul, a professor at Sogang University’s Graduate School of Public Policy in Seoul, “but it has to be considerate of its ally’s position.”

Others warn that a spurned South Korea has other military options that could further inflame tension on an already edgy Korean Peninsula. “South Korea has already ramped up its defense spending and is deploying a new missile that can strike targets in China,” Pinkston said.

“So if Seoul gets the feeling it’s being abandoned or that its U.S. alliance is not reliable, it’s prepared do things for its own defense.”


(c) 2010, Tribune Co.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.