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Concerns over NK Provocations Threaten Key Resolve

Cho Jong Ik  |  2012-01-21 11:16
The joint Key Resolve military training exercise between the US and South Korea may not go ahead given fears that it may increase the chances of a North Korean military provocation.

A South Korean government source said on January 19, We are in discussions with the US about whether Key Resolve will go ahead as planned, given the number of variables to consider regarding internal trends in North Korea since the death of Kim Jong Il. In some circles it is being said that the exercise, scheduled for February although still without a specific date, has a high chance of being postponed or cancelled altogether.

The only previous occasion on which joint military training between the US and South Korea was cancelled for the potential effects on inter-Korean relations was in 1992. At the time, progress in inter-Korean relations and DPRK denuclearization talks with the US were cited as reasons for the exercise not going ahead, having then recently concluded the Agreement on Reconciliation, Non-aggression, Exchange and Cooperation, as well as the South-North Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

Key Resolve is usually scheduled to take place from the end of February until mid-March, and this year was expected to be no different. US and South Korean officials are believed to be concerned about the prospect of Kim Jong Eun using the exercise as an excuse to conduct military provocations in order to increase internal unity.

Already there have been concerns raised that the Nuclear Security Summit scheduled to take place in March, directly after Key Resolve, may be a possible target of North Korean provocations. One North Korea analyst said that Given Kim Jong Eun has got no economic results to show for this year, which is supposed to be North Koreas first year as a strong and prosperous nation, and the fact that the countrys nuclear capabilities are its only bargaining chip, there is a good chance Kim will target the lead-up to the summit for a provocation.

Despite the possibility of such provocation, the US is still be eager to go ahead with the training exercise.

A US military official confirmed that the current plan is for the alliance to hold the training exercise on a similar scale as last year, adding that a final decision on the timing of the exercise will be made soon. Another official hinted at expectations that Key Resolve will go ahead, saying that not going ahead with the exercise would not provide any guarantees regarding North Korean provocations anyway.

Similarly, many analysts are calling for the exercise to go ahead as usual, noting that it is defensive in nature and suggesting that military diplomacy could be used to thwart any concerns held by neighboring countries.

Of particular concern to some is the potential for the exercise cancellation to indirectly acknowledge that joint military drills actually do play a role in provoking North Korea.

Professor Yoo Ho Yeol of Korea University told Daily NK, If there is any element of the exercise which may be a potential threat to North Korea then it is essential to show them that this is not the case, adding that It would be desirable for the exercise to go ahead.

Professor Yoo also said that If they decide not to go ahead with the exercise, this will be an acknowledgment that the exercise has actually been a provocation towards North Korea for all these years.

Yoo finished by saying that in light of Kim Jong Euns recent visits to his countrys military corps, not going ahead with Key Resolve would not send any message of peace.

Others are more cautious though, saying that the drill should be shelved for the time being at least, with major events on the calendar this year, beginning with the Nuclear Security Summit in March, followed by the South Korean general election in April and the presidential election in December. These people believe that in order to get North Korea back to the Six Party Talks the last thing needed is to incite hostilities.

Professor Kim Yeon Soo from the National Defense University said, There are important political events on the calendar this year, and if conflict between the two Koreas hurts progress in restarting the Six Party Talks, this could be a source of criticism and psychological pressure for the (South Korean) government.

The ideal scenario is for us to see a restart in the Six Party Talks along with improvement in inter-Korean relations, Kim said.
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