US and South Korea hold annual military exercise as tensions abound

South Korea and US conducting Ulchi Freedom-Guardian military exercises
Photo: Kim Jun-bum/Yonhap
Photo: Kim Jun-bum/Yonhap
Photo: Kim Jun-bum/Yonhap

American and South Korean armed forces will start the joint “Ulchi-Freedom Guardian” war games today amid tensions with North Korea. Pyongyang is likely to retaliate with its own show of force.

Following Kim Jong-un’s testing of new missiles and a heated war of words with Donald Trump, the US military has sought to reassure regional allies in South Korea and Japan. Ulchi-Freedom Guardian, in which 50,000 South Korean troops alongside 17,500 Americans will participate in primarily computer simulated drills, marks the latest show of America’s commitment.

In recent days, Kim and Trump have scaled back their taunts, with the North Korean leader tamely saying he will assess the actions of the “foolish Yankees”. Yet, military muscle flexing could tempt Trump to taunt North Korea, and will certainly lead Pyongyang to demonstrate its own might.

The exercises’ effect on tensions will largely depend on Mr Kim’s response. Most likely he will test launch intermediate range missiles into the ocean, as he did last year. A more aggressive action would doubtless raise fears—both of Pyongyang’s bellicosity and Mr Trump’s response.

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