By Liu Cong
The ROK and US will carry out the Combined Command Post Training (CCPT) from March 8 to 18. As joint military exercise between the two countries is considered an important “political card” that always adds uncertainties to the Korean peninsular situation, will the CCPT escalate the deadlocked situation on the peninsula again?
DPRK’s top leader Kim Jong-Un said at the 8th Congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea that, “the ROK continues to neglect our warnings for it to stop importing sophisticated military equipment and the joint military exercises with the US. It continues to violate the inter-Korean military agreement on ensuring peace and military stability on the Korean peninsula”. He vowed that only when Seoul completely stops its abnormal behaviors will there be a chance of improving the relations with Pyongyang.
Yet Biden has reemphasized the importance of the US-ROK joint military exercise after he took office.
The US Department of Defense announced in February that what the new defense secretary Austin is concerned most is military responsiveness, while the military exercise with ROK is a crucial way to confirm their joint preparedness. The US side also reaffirmed that the fundamental purpose of the exercise is not provocation, but defense.
Yang Xiyu, researcher at the China Institute of International Studies, explained in an interview why the US plans to hold the joint military exercise. On the one hand, it wants to maintain the military alliance with ROK and improve the interoperability of their troops; on the other hand, the exercise is a political card that will put pressure on DPRK.
However, voices against the exercise are heard within ROK.
Seoul needs the exercise to take over the wartime operational control (OPCON) from the US at an early date, but it’s worth noting that not only is this year’s exercise in a scaled-back manner, but the much-expected Full Operational Capability (FOC) test necessary for the OPCON transfer will be limited too. The test, aimed to validate whether the Combined Forces Command that will exercise the wartime OPCON is capable of doing the job, is at the heart of the planned OPCON transfer between the two countries.
The Biden administration’s stance on this issue is unknown.Thought it may give a closer scrutiny of the details than the previous administration to see if relevant decisions conform to the bilateral agreement. This, coupled with the pandemic, has made it less likely for Moon Jae-in to take back the OPCON during his term.
However, many civic groups in ROK have assembled in protest against the joint exercise, citing worries that it may throw the peninsular situation into a deadlock again.
The northern headquarters of the South Korean Committee for the Implementation for the June 15 South-North Joint Declaration held a press conference on March 4, calling for the suspension of ROK-US joint military exercises in order to mitigate the military tension and lay the foundation for south-north dialogue. Another 101 organizations at Gyeongsangnam-do also released a statement demanding the exercise’s suspension in defense of peace on the peninsula.
The military exercise will worsen the Korean peninsular tension as it sends a passive signal to DPRK. It will not only obstruct communication between Pyongyang and Washington, but will disrupt cooperation between Pyongyang and Seoul too, said Li Haidong, a professor at the Institute of International Relations, China Foreign Affairs University.
But Yang Xiyu also pointed out that even though the military exercise will heat up the situation on the peninsula again, the impact will be very limited, and a military conflict is out of the question because “neither party is willing to break the current stalemate, and their interaction and wrestling are basically kept controllable.”