Annual US-South Korean military exercises are expected to begin today, despite North Korean grievances that the drills simulate an invasion of the Korean peninsula.
The exercises—cancelled last year in deference to the US-North Korea talks—are expected to run until August 20 and will be a slimmed down version of the normal military drills. North Korea launched missile tests on July 25 and July 30 as a form of protest to these exercises.
The wargames risk further derailing the ongoing US-North Korean denuclearisation talks, the last of which was a cordial meeting held between US president Donald Trump and North Korean counterpart Kim Jong-un on June 30 at the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).
The impasse between the two sides centres on the issue of North Korean denuclearisation. Pyongyang views denuclearisation as the end result of talks that will come after US sanctions on the North are lifted. Washington continues to view denuclearisation as the starting point of further talks, with an aim towards eventual sanctions relief.
Ultimately, the impasse is unlikely to be resolved. North Korea views its nuclear weapons as a guarantor of regime survival whereas the US harbours suspicions that sanctions relief is a regime stalling tactic. Pyongyang’s suspicions will only increase with the US withdrawal from a Soviet-era missile pact with Russia effective on August 2—allowing American land-based cruise missiles in Asia.
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John is a Senior Analyst with an interest in Indo-Pacific geopolitics. Master of International Relations (Australian National University) graduate with study focus on the Indo-Pacific. Qualified lawyer (University of Auckland, NZ) with experience in post-colonial Pacific & NZ legal systems.