In June, a North Korean diplomat raised the possibility that Pyongyang might be “willing to talk” with the U.S. about freezing its nuclear and missile tests but first asked for the U.S. to “completely stop” large-scale joint military exercises with South Korea, temporarily or permanently.
“I would be reluctant to trade on those terms because of a signal it may be sending to others around the world and specifically to others that rely upon us heavily in the region,” said retired Navy Vice Adm. Robert Murrett, deputy director of the Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism at Syracuse University.
Murrett, a former director of Naval Intelligence who also ran the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, added that it still maybe a good idea to “do a day in, day out” assessment because of the situation on the Korean peninsula.
Tensions rose this week after President Donald Trump‘s “fire and fury” warning Tuesday to Pyongyang, which responded by claiming to be “carefully examining” a strike on the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam, where an estimated 6,000 U.S. troops are stationed.
Yonhap also reported Thursday that North Korea’s military said it planned to test-fire intermediate range ballistic missiles near Guam. On Tuesday, the U.S. military flew B-1B Lancer strategic bombers over the peninsula in a show of force. The bombers operate from Andersen AFB on Guam.
“The key is to display our deterrent capability in sufficient strength so that the North Koreans will see it and will continue to feel that deterrent capability is credible,” said retired Army Col. William McKinney, a visiting scholar at the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.
McKinney, who during a 30-year military career spent 18 years in Korea, said the large-scale exercises such as the Ulchi-Freedom Guardian drills and the Key Resolve in March “play a key role in displaying that deterrent capability. So in many respects we want the North Koreans to see how powerful the alliance is through its exercises. That deters them from actual acts but doesn’t necessarily deter them from provocative or bellicose statements.”
Then again, McKinney said, the U.S. suspended a joint military training exercise called Team Spirit in the past “in order to achieve strategic objectives that we were looking for. And then when it appeared that the North was backsliding on their agreements, or not following through with what they had promised, we reinstituted the exercise.”
Maxwell said the Team Spirit example demonstrated that Pyongyang couldn’t be trusted.
“In 1993, we unilaterally ended Team Spirit as a confidence-building measure and stopped the exercise. But of course, North Korea continued its nuclear development,” he said.