Five days of joint US-South Korean military exercises begin today.
Styled “Vigilant Storm”, more than 240 aircraft flying approximately 1,600 sorties will participate in the drills, including American F-35B stealth fighter jets. Vigilant Storm comes a mere days after South Korea concluded its annual Hoguk field training exercises. On Friday, North Korea also fired two short-range ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan.
While Pyongyang claims its missile tests are defensive in nature, the drills are more an attempt to test its weapons systems and intimidate Washington and Seoul to improve its negotiating power. The uptick in missile tests noted since late September may also indicate that North Korea is preparing to conduct another nuclear test, which it has not done since 2017.
Continued military activity—especially another nuclear test—is likely to raise concerns among the US and its allies but is unlikely to significantly alter Washington’s longstanding approach to North Korea. Expect Washington and Seoul to continue to support drills and collective security guarantees should North Korea maintain its current posture. Within these collective security guarantees, expect promises of full retaliation should Pyongyang pre-emptively attack the US or its regional allies.
Nick is the Director of the Daily Brief and a contributing Senior Analyst to it. An attorney, his areas of expertise include international law, international and domestic criminal law, security affairs in Europe and the Middle East, and human rights.