South Korea and US to end springtime military drills to back diplomacy

Marines of the US and South Korea during a joint military combined exercise in Pohang, South Korea Credit: Kim Jun-bum/Yonhap/AP/File

South Korea and the US are ending their massive springtime military drills as part of efforts to support diplomacy aimed at resolving the North Korean nuclear crisis.

The decision will likely raise worries about how the allies will maintain their readiness in the event that military tensions erupt again in the wake of the recently failed summit between US president Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

The Pentagon said in a release the US and South Korean defence chiefs decided to conclude the Key Resolve and Foal Eagle series of exercises.

It said the allies agreed to maintain firm military readiness through newly designed command post exercises and revised field training programmes.

Acting US Secretary of Defence Patrick Shanahan and South Korean Defence Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo “made clear that the alliance decision to adapt our training programme reflected our desire to reduce tension and support our diplomatic efforts to achieve complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula in a final, fully verified manner,” the statement said.

Seoul’s Defence Ministry released a similar statement.

After his second summit with Mr Kim ended without any agreement in Hanoi on Thursday, Mr Trump complained about the cost of annual military drills.

“It’s a very, very expensive thing and we do have to think about that, too,” Mr Trump said.

Following his first summit with Mr Kim in Singapore last June, Mr Trump also suspended the allies’ summertime military drills, calling them “very provocative” and “massively expensive”.

The US and South Korea also have suspended a few other smaller joint drills.

The end of the springtime war games will benefit North Korea, which has described them as a rehearsal for invasion and responded with its own costly military exercises.

The Korean Peninsula remains in a technical state of war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty.

About 28,500 American soldiers are deployed in South Korea to deter potential aggression from North Korea.