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Analysts: Joint US/South Korean Naval Exercise Sends Clear Message

  • Ira Mellman

"Invincible Spirit," the four-day joint U.S.-South Korean naval exercise off the coast of South Korea is coming to an end. The exercise involved some 8,000 South Korean and U.S. military personnel on ships, submarines and about 200 aircraft. South Korean officials said one of the drills targeted involved targeting an abandoned submarine simulating a submerged North Korean vessel.

It followed by four months the sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan that killed 46 sailors. A subsequent investigation by South Korea, the United States and other countries concluded the ship was hit by a North Korean torpedo. North Korea denies that.

U.S. Rear Admiral Dan Cloyd, onboard the aircraft carrier George Washington off the Korean coast, said Tuesday that, in addition to providing war fighting skills and coordination with South Korean forces, the exercise was sending a message to Pyongyang. "...that we've achieved a deterrent effect to North Korea that will give them pause as they make decisions about the future of their nation and how they conduct themselves in the international stage," he said.

As expected, the North Koreans were not pleased with the joint naval exercise. A news reader on North Korean TV said the army, and the North Korean people, will decisively react to the enemy's demonstration of deterrence with a more powerful and horrible deterrence.

Jung-Hoon Lee, a professor of International Relations at Seoul's Yonsei Universitym, told ABC News North Korea's belligerent tone must be met by strength. "This is the only way North Korea knows how to deal with the outside world. It's brinksmanship at its best, blackmail, force until your opponent kneels down and kowtows," he said.

Some experts are questioning the focus on military exercise. Former Assistant U.S. Secretary of State Robert Gallucci told Bloomberg News the goal instead should be face-to-face talks. "It's not a good idea to regard talks with the North as some kind of prize that we award them with for good behavior. I think a passage of time would be a good idea, but engaging the North is what eventually has to happen," he said.

Although North Korea walked away from six-nation disarmament talks last year, a North Korean spokesman said at a recent meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations that his country would return to the talks, if they were held on a "equal footing" with other participants. By "equal footing," the spokesman said that meant that the U.N. Security Council should first do away with sanctions. Those sanctions were placed on the North following the sinking of the Cheonan. Some observers said, at the time, that put everything back to square one.

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