DoD Halts Planning for Ulchi Freedom Guardian Exercise, Spokesperson Says
(Source: US Department of Defense; issued June 18, 2018)
WASHINGTON --- Consistent with President Donald J. Trump's commitment to North Korea and in concert with South Korea, the United States military has suspended all planning for Ulchi Freedom Guardian, this August's defensive war game, Dana W. White, chief Pentagon spokesperson, said in a statement today.
“We are still coordinating additional actions,” she said. “No decisions on subsequent war games have been made.”
There will be a meeting on this issue at the Pentagon later this week with the defense secretary, secretary of state and the national security advisor, she said. “There is no impact on Pacific exercises outside of the Korean Peninsula.”
Ulchi Freedom Guardian is an annual U.S.-South Korean command and control exercise that began in 1976 and is designed to enhance readiness, protect the region and maintain stability on the Korean Peninsula. Last year, about 17,500 U.S. service members took part, as well as participants from Australia, Canada, Colombia, Denmark, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and New Zealand.
S. Korea, U.S. Suspend Major Military Exercise
(Source: Yonhap News Agency; issued June 19, 2018)
SEOUL --- South Korea and the United States have decided to suspend the Ulchi Freedom Guardian (UFG) exercise slated for August, Seoul and Washington officials said Tuesday, amid dialogue efforts to denuclearize North Korea.
Shortly after his Singapore summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un last Tuesday, U.S. President Donald Trump unveiled his plan to stop "provocative, inappropriate and expensive" war games with the South, which Pyongyang has decried as an invasion rehearsal.
"Following close cooperation, South Korea and the U.S. decided to suspend all planning activities for the UFG, the defensive exercise slated for August," Seoul's defense ministry said in a text message sent to reporters.
"The South and the U.S. plan to continue consultations over additional measures," it added.
The ministry also said that there is no decision yet regarding other allied training exercises.
The U.S. Department of Defense made the same announcement.
"Consistent with President Trump's commitment and in concert with our Republic of Korea ally, the United States military has suspended all planning for this August's defensive 'wargame' (Freedom Guardian)," Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said in a statement.
The White House said that the combined exercises are expected to be "on pause" should the North deliver on its denuclearization commitment.
"Those conversations are ongoing at this point. As long as North Korea continues to act in good faith, then we expect those things to be on pause," White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters.
Observers said that the suspension may induce Pyongyang to take such steps as demolishing its intercontinental ballistic missile engine testing site, or at least help build confidence with the communist regime.
Later in the day, Seoul's defense ministry expressed expectation that the North would take a measure that "corresponds" with the suspension of the allied exercise.
"We are making sufficient preparations to ensure that there will not be any problem regarding the South Korea-U.S. combined defense posture," Choi Hyun-soo, the ministry spokeswoman, told reporters.
"(The suspension) is a measure to contribute to the efforts to maintain the peaceful mood for dialogue between the North and the U.S., and between the two Koreas," she added.
Asked if the exercise will resume should the North fail to make progress in its denuclearization process, Choi said, "Yes."
In 1954, the U.S.-led U.N. Command started the Focus Lens exercise. It was later combined with South Korea's Ulchi exercise, which was launched in the wake of a North Korean infiltration in 1968. The combined exercise, which was called the Ulchi Focus Lens (UFL), was renamed the UFG in 2008.
In 1990, the allies temporarily halted the UFL due to the U.S.' participation in the Gulf War.
"We can say that it is the second time that the allies have suspended the exercise," a senior ministry official said, declining to be named.
Amid dialogue with the North in 1992, Seoul and Washington also canceled their Team Spirit exercise, which resumed the following year.
Following Trump's remarks, speculation has surged that the allies might halt three major exercises: the UFG and springtime Key Resolve and Foal Eagle exercises.
The allies have long defended their regular exercises as purely defensive in nature, rejecting the North's persistent claim that the drills are aimed at preparing for an invasion of its territory.
Trump's suspension plan has stirred up heated debate. Supporters call it a good-will gesture to facilitate the North's denuclearization and naysayers a blow to the bilateral alliance.
Conservatives here have opposed the UFG suspension, though it is temporary, arguing that regular combined exercises are central to the decadeslong security alliance designed to counter threats from their common adversary.
Others, however, said that the suspension could create more opportunities to engage with the North and help expedite its nuclear disarmament.