In recent years, the United States and South Korea have repeatedly canceled joint military exercises to keep the peace with North Korea. But after a series of tests with nuclear-capable missiles on the part of the isolated country, Seoul wants to improve its defense capabilities.
Amid rising tensions on the Korean peninsula, South Korean and US forces are set to hold the largest joint summer exercises in five years. The annual exercises are scheduled to begin next Monday and last until September 1, the Defense Ministry said in Seoul. The authority did not provide any information on the number of soldiers taking part.
The US has deployed 28,500 troops in South Korea as a deterrent to a North Korean threat. Under the name "Ulchi Freedom Shield", training is to be combined with computer simulations, field exercises and a large civil defense exercise. A Defense Department spokesman said it would be the largest exercise since 2017. On Tuesday, both countries began a multi-day crisis management training course.
A sharp reaction from North Korea to the upcoming maneuvers was feared in Seoul. The leadership of the largely isolated country regularly accuses the US of maneuvering South Korea to prepare for an attack. Washington and Seoul deny this, emphasizing the drills are designed to improve defense capabilities. Tensions in the region have escalated again this year following a series of tests by North Korea of nuclear-capable missiles. In May, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and his American counterpart Joe Biden agreed to expand joint maneuvers.
In recent years, both countries have reduced the scope of several exercises for diplomatic reasons or canceled them altogether. When the US canceled the summer exercises in South Korea in 2018, it wanted to create greater opportunities for negotiations on North Korea's nuclear weapons program. However, since the failed summit between the USA and North Korea in Vietnam in February 2019, these have not made any progress.