South Korea Continues Military Drills Despite N. Korean Threats

South Korea and the United States are running joint sea, air and land military drills; North Korea has denounced the drills as an attempt to alternately build up a US-led invasion force or nuke Pyongyang. North Korean officials have suggested that the military exercises could spark a nuclear war.

The APquoted North Korean government official Rodong Sinman as saying:

“It is the strategic goal of the U.S. to invade the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or North Korea), bring its neighboring countries under its control with it as a stepping-stone and, furthermore, dominate the whole Asia-Pacific region. The U.S. is working hard to kick off large-scale joint military drills this year, too, for the purpose of mounting a pre-emptive nuclear attack upon the DPRK.”

It must be that time of year again.

Last year, Pyongyang responded to the joint military exercises by threatening to strike Washington and Seoul with nuclear weapons.

Technically speaking, the two Koreas are still at war and have been since the communist North’s1950 invasion of South Korea. The two sides adopted a truce that ended the shooting war in 1953, but have since failed to ratify a formal peace treaty.

The fracas is over annual military drill – known as “Foal Eagle” – carried out by the US and South Korean militaries. South Korea insists the drills are purely defensive in nature. According to a Reuters report, the US envoy on N. Korean policy, Glyn Davies echoed South Korea’s tone, saying, “We will continue on a transparent basis to conduct these defensive exercises so that we are ready should, God forbid, any contingency arise.”

North Korea’s ambassador to China, Ji Jae Ryong has called for a halt to the join US-South Korean exercises while the two Koreas seek to improve relations. According to a report in The Telegraph, Ambassador Ji said:

“First, we propose taking preparatory measures in response to the warm call for creating an atmosphere for improving North-South ties. In this regard, we officially propose the South Korean authorities take critical measures of halting acts of provoking and slandering the other side from Jan. 30.”

Ambassador Ji also made clear that the North had no intention of discontinuing its nuclear program – a constant sticking point in negotiations with South Korea and the United States.

The call for an improvement of ties between North and South Korea refers to a recent North Korean proposal to allow families separated by the war to reunite. Korean family reunifications have been held in the past, usually at Mount Kumgang on the northern side of the North-South border.

South Korea has made clear that they intend to continue the joint military drills, but has urged the North to follow through on its proposal to allow family reunifications. According to Reuters, a spokesperson for South Korea’s Unification Ministry said, “(We) expressed regret that the North has been showing an uncertain and passive position on the reunions of separated families, despite having accepted the proposal to hold them.”

For now, there has been no movement on the proposed reunification of Korean families and the joint military exercises will go on, though it does not appear that any aircraft carriers will be involved.

South Korea and the United States have largely ignored Pyongyang’s threats. Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby, while noting that no aircraft carriers were involved in last year’s joint military exercises either, had this to say about Foal Eagle:

“Whatever units participate in whatever scenario that we’re testing out, it’s going to be a robust demonstration of the strength of the alliance and the interoperability between our two militaries.”

What do you think? Tell us in the comments: Are North Korea’s threats worth the attention of the United States or South Korea or is this just so much posturing and saber rattling?