On South Korea’s southeastern coast, troops are rehearsing.
It is simulating a storm over a disputed beach. Wave after wave of KAAVs crashed into the sand, and hordes of infantry dismounted and ran to take positions.
It was an impressive display, focused on keeping peace on the peninsula.
This sort of thing is routine enough for a country that is still technically at war with its nuclear-armed northern neighbor, but the presence of its partners is far less so.
In fact, these exercises are associated with U.S. That’s what got people’s attention.
“We’re here to support our alliance with the South Korean Marine Corps and Navy,” said U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Kevin Bass.
“It’s been a while since we last did this, but this is a routine exercise and it’s defensive in nature, just to contribute to the joint defense of the Korean peninsula.”
He chooses his words carefully, but the broader message speaks for itself.
Indeed, the gigantic amphibious vehicles roaring across the beach “supporting” the original Hallyu seem to provide an apt metaphor for the relationship.
A series of joint exercises called “Freedom Shield” and “Warrior Shield” have been going on for several weeks.
This is the first time in five years that they have made progress on this scale.
They used to happen every year but were suspended after the historic 2018 meeting between U.S. and North Korean leaders President Trump and Kim Jong Un.
They agreed to a denuclearization deal at the time, but talks have since broken down and the resumption of the exercises reflects an escalation in tensions since then.
Indeed, last year North Korea More missiles have been launched than ever since Kim Jong-un came to power in 2011.
there are some South Korea These exercises are considered provocative and an escalation would reduce their security. A small number of protesters showed up at the exercise site holding banners reading “U.S. Army Get Out of Korea” and were quickly dispersed by the police.
And these views are not groundless. North Korea views U.S. military cooperation with South Korea as particularly threatening and provocative.
it has responded in the past few weeks launch a barrage of nuclear-capable missiles, including a submarine and the most advanced intercontinental ballistic missile to date. It also unveiled nuclear warheads and a new underwater drone it says is capable of causing a “super-massive radioactive tsunami”.
Given this, the South Korean government insists its response is proportionate, necessary and defensive.
“Despite our efforts to have a dialogue with North Korea, North Korea has been continuously developing nuclear weapons for many years,” said South Korean Deputy Defense Minister Shin Bum-chul.
“The reality is that the threat has been increasing. So in response to the increasing threat, we have been resuming military exercises since President Yoon took office.
“If North Korea’s current level of progress is similar to previous nuclear tests, then yes, I believe they can test nuclear weapons at any time.”
If another full-scale nuclear test is conducted, it would be the first since 2017 and would be a major escalation.
This is the “next step” that many fear, as South Korea may find it difficult not to respond.
Threats in this part of the world are nothing new, but it certainly feels like efforts to deter them are restarting, this time with a message of strength and loyalty.