U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday said he opposed joint military drills with South Korea because of their costs to the United States, adding that ending exercises would also help reduce tensions with Pyongyang.
“That was my position long before I became President,” Trump wrote on his Twitter account, just a day after U.S. and South Korean defense officials announced an end to their large-scale joint drills conducted every spring.
The president’s claim, that holding back on the exercises would “save hundreds of millions of dollars for the U.S.,” affirms his longstanding position, that many of the U.S. military’s commitments abroad - including those in South Korea - are draining U.S. finances.
According to a New York Times report from Monday, Trump reportedly complained after national security briefings that his “generals don’t understand business.” The report said the president often views national security issues from an economic perspective that has forced his advisors to brief him in those terms.
Trump has repeatedly mentioned the costs of U.S. military bases and what he views as the insufficient level of defense spending by U.S. allies, the report continued.
Some intelligence officials interviewed by the Times questioned whether the president’s focus on expenses could crowd out other geopolitically salient issues.
With regard to joint drills with South Korea, Trump has been almost as vocal as Pyongyang in his opposition to the exercises. He commented publicly following both of his summits with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un that the “war games” were highly expensive.
Sunday’s announcement on the shutdown of the annual Key Resolve and Foal Eagle drills - the largest exercises conducted every year by the allies - came only days after the much-anticipated U.S.-North Korea summit in Hanoi, Vietnam, ended with no deal on Thursday.
A joint statement from Seoul and Washington affirmed that the exercises’ conclusion and their replacement with scaled-down versions “reflected our desire to reduce tension and support our diplomatic efforts to achieve complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in a final, fully verified manner.”
Perhaps indicative of his stated intention to maintain dialogue with Pyongyang in an atmosphere of continued calm, Trump added in his tweet on Sunday that pausing exercises with Seoul would be “a good thing” to reduce tensions with the North, confirming speculation surrounding the timing of the cancellations.
The North would almost inevitably slam South Korea and the United States every spring when the allies began their joint exercises, which Pyongyang views as rehearsals for an invasion of its territory.
Many analysts noted that Trump and his administration were pulling the plug on the exercises to preserve the tenuous detente achieved with North Korea in recent months that now faces an uncertain future with the collapse of the second summit in Hanoi.
John Bolton, Trump’s national security advisor, tried to put positive spin on the results of the summit in a series of morning talk shows with U.S. broadcasters on Monday, as criticism of the administration builds in Washington and abroad.
Saying he did not consider the summit a failure, Bolton told CBS News that Trump was “not desperate for a deal - not with North Korea, not with anybody if it’s contrary to American national interests.”
The primary disagreement that led to the breakdown of the talks, Bolton said, was the “very limited concession” that the North was willing to offer in the form of scrapping an aging nuclear reactor at Yongbyon and some of their nuclear enrichment and reprocessing capabilities. “In exchange, they wanted substantial relief from the sanctions,” he added.
Trump appeared to have a different view of why he chose to walk away from a deal with Kim. “For the Democrats to interview in open hearings a convicted liar & fraudster, at the same time as the very important Nuclear Summit with North Korea, is perhaps a new low in American politics and may have contributed to the ‘walk,’” he wrote, in reference to the testimony from his former lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, at the U.S. House of Representatives Wednesday.
“Never done when a president is overseas. Shame!” Trump added.