Report Claims THAAD Will Be Exercised As Part of Key Resolve

KBS is reporting that the highly controversial THAAD battery will be part of the simulated portion of March’s Key Resolve exercise between the US and ROK militaries:

Anchor: South Korea and the U.S. will stage a simulation of THAAD missile interception during the annual Key Resolve military exercise next month. The allied forces are also expected to see the participation of strategic assets such as the B-1B and B-52 strategic bombers.
Our Bae Joo-yon has more.

Report: South Korea and the U.S. are said to be planning to apply the “4D” operational concept in their annual Key Resolve military exercise next month.

During the Security Consultative Meeting in 2015, defense chiefs of South Korea and the U.S. approved the 4D operational concept, to ‘detect, disrupt, destroy and defend’ against North Korean nuclear and biochemical missile threats.

While initializing the preventive and preemptive strike drill, the allied forces
will stage a simulation drill to shoot down an incoming North Korean missile with a THAAD battery.  [KBS World Radio]

You can read more at the link.

Is US Government Rushing THAAD to South Korea Before New President Takes Office?

That is what some are accusing the US of doing:

Patrick Cronin, senior director of the Asia Program at the Center for a New American Security, wrote in his column before the defense ministerial talks, “Secretary Mattis and his Korean counterparts are likely to seek to accelerate the deployment date of the THAAD missile battery, so that it happens prior to the next Korean election.”

After the talks, Seoul’s ministry said the two officials agreed to push for the deployment as planned, but declined to comment on whether the system would be in place before the election.

Park Won-gon, an international relations professor at Handong Global University, said it is significant for the United States to finalize the plan at the earliest possible date as the political situation in South Korea has been unstable with some opposition lawmakers even calling for withdrawing the decision to deploy THAAD.

He said Washington probably sees the possibility for an opposition candidate winning the election, so is rushing to deploy the battery out of concerns that the decision could be overturned by the next government.

“Mattis probably visited South Korea to check the ongoing situation here and make sure of the deployment in accordance with the Trump administration’s plan to advance its global missile defense program to protect against missile attacks from North Korea and Iran,” he said.  [Korea Times]

You can read more at the link.

Secretary Mattis Reaffirms that North Korea is the Only Reason THAAD is Deploying to South Korea

The Chinese and the Russians both know the THAAD system is no threat to them, they are just using this as a way to create a wedge in the US-ROK alliance.  With a left wing candidate likely winning the upcoming ROK presidency if the impeachment of President Park is upheld it will be interesting to see what happens with the planned deployment of THAAD:

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis answers questions from reporters during a flight to South Korea. Photo courtesy of the Defense Department.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said that none other than North Korea needs to worry about the planned deployment of the U.S. THAAD missile defense system in South Korea.

Mattis, who arrived in Seoul on his first overseas trip since taking office, made the remark to reporters traveling together with him on the plane, stressing THAAD is a defensive system, according to a transcript provided by the Pentagon.

“There’s only one reason that we even have this under discussion right now, and that is North Korea’s activities,” Mattis said. “THAAD is for defense of our allies’ people, of our troops who are committed to their defense.”

“Were it not for the provocative behavior of North Korea we would have no need for THAAD out here. There’s no other nation that needs to be concerned about THAAD other than North Korea,” he said.  [Yonhap]

You can read more at the link.

US Defense Secretary Mattis Begins 2-Day Trip to South Korea

So far, so good for Defense Secretary Mattis’ visit to South Korea:

U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis (Yonhap)

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Thursday began his two-day visit to South Korea in his first overseas trip aimed at underscoring the U.S. security commitment to the Asian ally amid growing threats from North Korea.

After landing at Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, 70 kilometers south of Seoul, at 12:30 p.m., Mattis headed to the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) headquarters in Yongsan, Seoul, according to the defense ministry.

Mattis was briefed by USFK Commander Gen. Vincent Brooks on the security situation on the Korean Peninsula and in the region, including Seoul-Washington’s joint readiness against North Korean threats that include that it is close to test-firing an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of reaching the U.S. mainland, military officials said.

He then met with Acting President and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn and National Security Office chief Kim Kwan-jin and attended a dinner event hosted by Defense Minister Han Min-koo at a Seoul hotel.

Hwang is currently serving as acting president after President Park Geun-hye was impeached by the National Assembly over a corruption scandal.  [Yonhap]

You can read more at the link, but Mattis has reconfirmed the US commitment to deploy the THAAD missile defense system to South Korea despite Chinese objections.

ROK JCS To Lead Key Resolve 2017 Military Exercise

This year’s Key Resolve exercise will have a little twist with the ROK Joint Chiefs of Staff leading it:

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff will lead a combined military exercise with the U.S. from a new command center in March amid growing threats from North Korea, military officials said Monday.

“During the upcoming Key Resolve exercise, Seoul’s JCS will be responsible for exercise planning and control, operation of opposing forces, and after-drill meetings,” an official at the defense ministry said.

The exercise’s command center will be set up in an underground bunker of South Korea’s Capital Defense Command, as the JCS will lead the annual exercise with the U.S. staff playing a supporting role, according to the ministry.

When the U.S. side led the exercise, the command center used to be set up at the bunker of the South Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command.

The JCS led the Key Resolve drills in 2013 as South Korea was scheduled to regain wartime operational control (OPCON) from Washington in 2015. But the OPCON transfer was pushed back amid Pyongyang’s provocations. Seoul and Washington agreed on the “conditions-based” transfer, which observers say could come in mid-2020s.  [Yonhap]

You can read more at the link.

President Trump Confirms Defense Commitment to South Korea

It appears everything went well with the phone call between President Trump and acting ROK President Hwang:

President Donald Trump reaffirmed Washington’s “ironclad commitment” to the alliance with South Korea during a phone call Monday with the country’s acting president.

The leaders also agreed to strengthen joint defense capabilities as they face a growing nuclear and missile threat from North Korea, the White House said in a statement.

The call — the first time Trump and acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn have spoken — offered much-sought reassurance to South Koreans nervous that the new U.S. administration might change longstanding policies toward the divided peninsula.  [Stars & Stripes]

You can read more at the link.

US & ROK Marines Conduct Winter Training at 2018 Winter Olympics Site

It looks like ROK and US Marines are getting some good winter training in which the Kim regime is not happy about:

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea: South Korean and US Marines are conducting military exercises on ski slopes in sub-freezing temperatures, including shirtless hand-to-hand combat in the snow, prompting warnings of retaliation from North Korea over “madcap mid-winter” drills.

More than 300 Marines are taking part, simulating combat on the ski slopes of Pyeongchang, host of the 2018 Winter Olympics, amid speculation North Korea could be planning another missile test in defiance of U.N. resolutions.

“U.S. Marine Corps and ROK (Republic of Korea) Marine Corps partnered together at every level to build a camaraderie and friendship of the two countries’ militaries but also to increase our proficiency in the event where we have to fight a war together,” U.S. Captain Marcus Carlstrom told reporters.   [Channel News Asia]

You can read more at the link.

Acting South Korean President To Talk With President Trump Over the Phone

I doubt this phone call will be when President Trump will ask the ROK for more funding for the US-ROK alliance, but at some point I fully expect this issue will come up considering how he made this a central issue during his campaign:

South Korea’s Acting President and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn will have a phone conversation with U.S. President Donald Trump this week, Hwang’s office said Sunday.

The bilateral talks — the first since Trump was sworn in as the 45th U.S. president on Jan. 20 — will begin at 9 a.m., Monday (Korea time).

The announcement came after Reuters reported, citing a White House statement, that Trump “will speak to the leaders of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and South Korea in separate calls on Sunday (Washington time).”  [Yonhap]

You can read more at the link.

Expert: Trump to Focus More On Geoeconomics than Geopolitics with South Korea

Here is what a Yonsei professor who is an expert in international relations had to say about the incoming Trump administration:

Moon Chung-in, Yonsei University professor emeritus

Hankyoreh (Hani): Can you describe in broad strokes how the Trump administration will affect the Korean Peninsula?

Moon Chung-in (Moon): The Korean Peninsula policy won‘t be taking shape until April or May, when all the assistant secretaries have been appointed and confirmed. There are a lot of variables. But the main question is whether the Obama administration’s “pivot to Asia” policy will be retained, since that is linked to the global strategy the Trump administration comes up with. One has to bear in mind that Trump will reconsider the alliances according to his “America first” policy and that he’s more interested in geoeconomics [than geopolitics]. It’s also important to remember that Trump has a tendency to acknowledge what is called the Chinese and Russian sphere of influence, so he‘s not on the same page as the geopolitical strategy of checking and blockading China.

Hani: What kind of changes do you expect for the South Korea-US alliance?

Moon: Trump is blunt about the alliances. He has called out South Korea, Japan, NATO, Germany and Saudi Arabia for getting a “free ride.” He has a strong sense that the US is the benefactor and that its allies are the beneficiaries. The primary issue is adjusting how much of the joint cost of the South Korea-US alliance is covered by the two sides. First is defense burden sharing. South Korea spends 2.4% of its GDP on defense, and Trump could ask it to increase this to the US level of 4.3%. Second is defense cost sharing related to US Forces in Korea. South Korea is covering around 50%, and Trump could ask it to cover as much as 100% of this. These adjustments could be complicated by resistance inside South Korea. If a progressive government comes to power in South Korea, the question of pushing forward the transfer of wartime operational control [of South Korean troops to South Korea] would be sure to come up. Trump is likely to say that South Korea can have it right now if it wants it. He tends to act on instinct and impulse.  [Hankyoreh]

You can read more at the link.

Calls Growing for Launching A Limited Strike On North Korea

This is not a course of action I would recommend at this point considering the other options that have yet to be fully used to pressure the Kim regime and China:

Talk is growing in the United States of the possibility of using military strikes to take out North Korea’s nuclear and missile capabilities after the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, threatened he’s close to testing a long-range missile apparently capable of hitting the U.S.

Kim said in his New Year’s Day address that the communist nation has reached the final stage of preparations to test-launch an intercontinental ballistic missile. The remark was seen as a thinly veiled threat that Pyongyang is close to developing a nuclear-tipped missile capable of striking the continental U.S.

The threat appears to have stoked genuine fears of security among Americans, with reporters bombarding the Defense Department with questions of what the U.S. is going to do about the North’s missile, including whether it’s going to shoot it down or even launch a preemptive strike before it’s fired.

It also prompted President-elect Donald Trump to send a tweet: “North Korea just stated that it is in the final stages of developing a nuclear weapon capable of reaching parts of the U.S. It won’t happen!”

On Wednesday, a private intelligence analysis firm, Stratfor, even laid out a list of potential targets in North Korea, including the Yongbyon nuclear complex, home to the North’s plutonium-producing reactor and reprocessing facility.

“When considering an attack on North Korea, there are two broad categories of strikes to deliberate. The first is a minimalist strike, specifically focused on dismantling the North’s nuclear weapons program. In this scenario, the United States would engage North Korean nuclear objectives only,” Stratfor said in an analysis piece carried by MarketWatch and, titled, “How the U.S. could derail North Korea’s nuclear program by force.”

“By not launching strikes on other North Korean targets, Washington leaves the door open, if only slightly, for de-escalation if Pyongyang can be convinced that the strike is not part of a regime change operation. What benefits Pentagon planners in this scenario is that a limited strike requires less resources and preparation, enhancing the element of surprise,”

Potential targets in the minimalist strike include the Yongbyon complex, including the 5-megawatt nuclear reactor and the reprocessing plant, as well as the Pyongsan uranium mine that provides fuel for the reactor, and the Pyongsong nuclear research and development facility, known as the North’s “Silicon Valley,” Stratfor said.

“These facilities form the heart of North Korean nuclear production infrastructure. If they were destroyed or disabled, the North Korean nuclear production network would be crippled, set back years at least,” it said.  [Yonhap]

You can read more at the link, but what anyone thinking of advocating for a limited strike on North Korea needs to answer is what is the response then when the Kim regime retaliates and launches a limited artillery strike on Seoul?  Can you imagine what the reaction will be from the Korean public will be especially if a left-wing President is elected this year?