On the question of whether the U.S. military will hold large-scale exercises in South Korea next year, the answer is a definitive “maybe.”
- Since Defense Secretary Mattis told reporters on Tuesday that the Pentagon has no plan to suspend further wargames in South Korea, it has been unclear whether or not Key Resolve and Foal Eagle will take place next spring and Ulchi Freedom Guardian will resume in fall of 2019.
- In June, President Trump announced he had ordered war games in South Korea to be suspended as part of negotiations with North Korea about ending that country’s nuclear weapons program. The Pentagon clarified on Wednesday that the president’s order was not a blanket suspension of all large-scale training events. “The Department of Defense suspended three individual military exercises in order to provide space for our diplomats to negotiate the verifiable, irreversible and complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,” the Pentagon said in a statement.
- Later on Wednesday, Trump tweeted a White House statement that seemed to indicate that next year’s war games would not happen after all: “There is no reason at this time to be spending large amounts of money on joint U.S.-South Korea war games. Besides, the President can instantly start the joint exercises again with South Korea, and Japan, if he so chooses. If he does, they will be far bigger than ever before.”
- However, the president did not specify whether he was referring to the military exercises that have already been suspended or next year’s war games. A National Security Council spokesman referred questions about next year’s training events to the Pentagon.
- “Regarding the exercises in Korea: Routine planning continues for major ROK [Republic of Korea]/U.S. exercises on the peninsula in 2019, in accordance with the normal exercise program planning cycle,” said Army Col. Rob Manning, a Defense Department spokesman.
- No further clarifications were available by deadline on Thursday.