The U.S. government has announced that two military training programs and a military exercise that had been planned with South Korea have been suspended indefinitely. The Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercise and two Korean Marine Exchange Program training exercises were suspended by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis in order to facilitate dialogue with North Korea. The decision was reportedly made after Mattis met with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joe Dunford and National Security Adviser John Bolton to discuss the issue.
President Donald Trump previously announced that the U.S was ready to suspend joint military exercises with South Korea after a historic meeting with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un in Singapore on June 12. Some in his administration appeared surprised at the announcement and the South Koreans seemed perplexed as well. Now, South Korea has opted to support the decision publicly.
The suspension of the joint military exercises between the U.S. and South Korea constitutes a major victory for North Korea. The U.S. has about 28,000 service members on the Korean Peninsula, under the mission of ensuring peace on the peninsula. The South Korean military is made up of temporary conscripts and is not a professional army like that of the U.S., so would be woefully unprepared if North Korea were to attack.
It is unclear whether North Korea has given anything in return other than a pledge to keep dialogue open. The ongoing dialogue with North Korea is meant to lead to the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. North Korea is estimated to currently have between 10 and 20 nuclear weapons. The U.S. and the international community would like the country to give up its nuclear capabilities in exchange for the elimination of some of the sanctions that have been crippling the country for decades.
South Korean leader Moon Jae-in has been a strong supporter of the dialogue and taking the diplomatic route towards peace. A spokeswoman for the South Korean government said, “We consider the ongoing denuclearization negotiations with North Korea as crucial, so as long as those negotiations continue, the decision by the governments of South Korea and the United States will be maintained.”