Ex-USFK commander voices concern over allies’ scaled-back joint exercises
WASHINGTON, The suspension of major joint military exercises between South Korea and the United States could undermine the allies' combat readiness while doing little to change North Korea's stance in denuclearization negotiations, former U.S. Forces Korea commander Walter Sharp said.
Since last year, Seoul and Washington have renamed and scaled back a set of major joint drills, including the summertime Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercise, as part of efforts to facilitate denuclearization talks with Pyongyang.
Sharp, who commanded USFK from 2008 to 2011, warned such adjustments are bound to "have an effect."
"I think the readiness is okay right now, but the longer we go without doing some major exercises, the more difficult it is to keep that readiness up," he said during a breakfast meeting in Washington last week with members of Korean-American Club, an association of former Korean correspondents to the U.S.
For decades, the North has denounced the South Korea-U.S. exercises as rehearsals for invasion of the communist nation, even though the allies have repeatedly assured Pyongyang that the maneuvers are purely defensive in nature.
"I do worry that we did not do the summer exercise last year. I'm not sure what that does," he said. "North Korea has not really changed. We tried so the diplomacy would work, I don't think that has worked."
On Saturday, North Korea fired off multiple projectiles into the East Sea, involving new tactical guided weapons and multiple rocket launchers.
The firings were seen as a sign of the North's frustration amid a deadlock in its denuclearization negotiations with the U.S. following the collapse of the Hanoi summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in February.
Sharp said Kim should "demonstrate and commit to giving up nuclear weapons," noting the U.S. could go back to "very strong exercises" and "more sanctions" if its patience wears off.
Source: Yonhap news Agency