Korea Peace Network Responds to Letter Calling for Resumption of War Drills

 In Congress, North Korea, South Korea, Trump Administration

In response to a January 29, 2019 letter sent to Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan by 13 House Armed Services Committee members calling for a resumption of military exercises with South Korea, Kevin Martin, President of Peace Action and Coordinator of the Korea Peace Network, sent the following letter of behalf of the Korea Peace Network to the signers of the January 29 letter:

Dear Representatives Rick Larsen, Elaine Luria, Katie Hill, Susan Davis, Ruben Gallego, Gilbert Cisneros, Filemon Vela, Andy Kim, Jason Crow, John Garamendi, Seth Moulton, William Keating, and Salud Carbajal,

On behalf of the Korea Peace Network, representing Korean-American, faith-based, peace, humanitarian, human rights, labor and academic groups and individuals, I write to express our collective disappointment regarding your letter dated January 29 to Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan advocating resumed US-South Korea military exercises.

Simply put, the suspension of the war drills is the only major security concession the US has offered North Korea as part of the current detente that has included North Korea suspending nuclear and missile tests. Therefore, your assertion that resuming military exercises would not undercut diplomacy seems unrealistic.

In fact, retired US General Vincent Brooks, who until January 1 led the combined US-ROK forces in South Korea, recently noted in a PBS NewsHour interview that the pause in large scale exercises could affect military readiness, but also supported the move, stating, …there has to be room for diplomatic maneuvering, diplomatic action to occur. And if creating leverage or traction comes from these adjustments to the exercises, then that’s a risk that has to be consciously taken.”

In a historic military agreement signed last September, the two Koreas agreed to “completely cease all hostile acts against each other in every domain, including land, air and sea that are the source of military tension and conflict.”

Your advocacy of resumed war drills, which are of grave concern to North Korea, whose economy, population and military capacity are dwarfed by the ROK-US alliance, threatens to reignite regional tensions. Calling for the resumption of exercises also calls into question respect for President Moon Jae-in’s leadership [1] and the astonishing steps toward South-North reconciliation.

In fact, supporters of diplomacy as well as military experts have pointed out the ways in which suspension in military exercises fits current conditions;

  • The pace, nature and size of military exercises has historically ebbed and flowed based on tensions on the peninsula. The exercises changed during the heightened tensions of 2016 and 2017. A reduction fits the current detente and negotiations.
  • The cancellation of the most escalatory high-level exercises has still allowed other exercises both at the unit level as well as higher level exercises off peninsula. [2]
  • Military exercises were suspended during the Clinton administration’s talks that led to the “Agreed Framework.” Exercises were cancelled in 1992, 1994, 1995 and 1996.
  • The exercises themselves have periodically fueled dangerous escalatory cycles. North Korea responded to exercises by shelling South Korea’s Yeonpyeong Island in 2010 helping to bring the peninsula closer to war. In 2017, provocative exercises and missile tests helped create the dangerous period of “fire and fury” brinkmanship. [3]

Instead of advocating provocative military exercises that threaten the fragile momentum toward peace, we urge you to consider supporting new legislation, to be introduced within a few weeks, to support the peace process. We will be in contact with you on that very soon.

Additionally, we request the opportunity to meet with you on Capitol Hill or your district offices. One opportunity is our upcoming Korea Peace Network Advocacy Days on Capitol Hill March 13 or 14. Peace advocates from around the country will be in town, and this could be a fruitful opportunity to discuss our mutual concerns regarding prospects for peace in Korea.


Kevin Martin

President, Peace Action and Peace Action Education Fund

Coordinator, Korea Peace Network



[1] Moon says he may consider suspending military drills with U.S., Yonhap News, Jun 14, 2018
[2] Korea, US continue ‘higher-level’ exercises off peninsula: US general, Korea Herald, Nov 27, 2018
[3] Shorrock, Tim, Diplomacy With North Korea Has Worked Before, The Nation, Sep 5 2017

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