US Acting Defense Secretary: Large-Scale Joint Military Exercises Not Needed on Korean Peninsula

Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan said Washington does not need to restore the large-scale joint military exercises that the United States and South Korea suspended last year amid diplomatic negotiations with North Korea.

“I am confident we have the readiness that we are required to have,” Shanahan told reporters traveling with him en route to Seoul. 

The acting defense secretary said he had based his assessment on talks with military leaders, including the top U.S. military general, the commander of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command and the top general on the Korean peninsula. 

Shanahan met Monday in Seoul with South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo, who said the U.S.-South Korea “combined defense posture” on the peninsula is “very solid.”

President Donald Trump suspended major military exercises on the peninsula last June, without consulting the Pentagon, after his first meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. 

In March of this year, Trump tweeted that suspending the drills had reduced tensions with North Korea and saved “hundreds of millions of dollars for the U.S.”

But a U.S. defense official told VOA on the condition of anonymity that American and South Korean troops have essentially been carrying out the same amount of exercises on the peninsula, just on a smaller scale.

“It changes it in a nuanced way,” the official said. “It turns the volume down.”

Before the suspension, the two countries carried out two major military exercises in the spring: the computer-simulated Key Resolve, and the combined field training exercise Foal Eagle.

In March, South Korea and the U.S. held weeklong computer-simulated exercises dubbed Dong Maeng, which replaced Key Resolve. 

According to the defense official, U.S. Marines, airmen and soldiers have continued to conduct the training included in the suspended Foal Eagle exercises, but it is now “decentralized” and carried out separately.