Tagged: current


US, S. Korea Military Exercises Could End Outreach to Nuclear North


The resumption of U.S.-South Korea joint military exercises, which were postponed until after the PyeongChang Olympics and Paralympics end in late March, could also mark the end of the current diplomatic outreach to North Korea.

The annual joint exercises include the Key Resolve strategic simulation drill, where U.S. and South Korean troops and military assets are deployed to respond to potential North Korean threats, and field exercises called Foal Eagle. Past drills involved nearly 20,000 American troops, 300,000 South Korean forces, and an array of bomber aircrafts, fighter jets and warships.

Needed deterrence

Military leaders deem these conventional exercises to be essential to maintain defense readiness and deterrence against the growing North Korean nuclear threat. It is also standard practice for every country in the world to conduct ongoing training for soldiers that are continually being drafted or deployed.

“All militaries train. The Korean People’s Army in North Korea trains. The PLA (People’s Liberation Army) trains in China. That’s what militaries do,” said North Korea security analyst Daniel Pinkston, a lecturer in international relations with Troy University in Seoul

North Korea has called these joint exercises threatening rehearsals for invasion.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in negotiated a delay in this year’s exercises to ensure the safety of the winter Olympics games being held close to the inter-Korean border. North Korea’s participation in the Olympics has also been accompanied by a pause in its missile launches and nuclear tests. In the year prior, Pyongyang conducted numerous provocative tests, after publicly setting the goal to develop a functional nuclear intercontinental ballistic missile that can target the U.S. mainland.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in talks with president of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly of North Korea Kim Young Nam as Kim Yo Jong, the sister of North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un, looks on.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in talks with president of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly of North Korea Kim Young Nam as Kim Yo Jong, the sister of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un, looks on.

In response, the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump has led an international effort to impose harsh sanctions on the North that cut off much of its income, including banning its lucrative coal and mineral exports.

Freeze for freeze

Moon’s diplomatic outreach has enacted what is basically a temporary “freeze for freeze” proposal, suspending both the U.S.-South Korea joint drills and North Korean provocations that China and Russia have been advocating to reduce regional tensions.

Washington has so far rejected any proposals to further suspend conventional military exercises that it argues are defense oriented and legal under international law, while it says North Korea’s nuclear program threatens its neighbors and the world.

There is, however, speculation that Washington and Seoul may try to reduce the size and scope of the exercises to make them less threatening to the North, perhaps by eliminating decapitation simulations that practice targeting leadership in Pyongyang, or excluding U.S. nuclear capable bombers from participating in the drills.

“The question is what level of the exercises is adequate for military preparedness and for robust deterrence purposes, and how do you calibrate it in a way that is nonthreatening,” said Pinkston.

In this Nov. 12, 2017 photo provided by South Korea Defense Ministry, three U.S. aircraft carriers USS Nimitz, left top, USS Ronald Reagan, left center, and USS Theodore Roosevelt, left bottom, participate with other U.S. and South Korean navy ships.
In this Nov. 12, 2017 photo provided by South Korea Defense Ministry, three U.S. aircraft carriers USS Nimitz, left top, USS Ronald Reagan, left center, and USS Theodore Roosevelt, left bottom, participate with other U.S. and South Korean navy ships.

But Pyongyang has warned it would respond to the resumption of the joint drills, possibly by resuming provocative nuclear and missile tests, even if it means triggering further sanctions.

“The North Korean authority must do its own calculation about gains and losses about such an action in protest to the resumption of the military exercises. So it is all up to Kim Jong on government,” said Bong Young-shik, a political analyst with the Yonsei University’s Institute for North Korean Studies in Seoul.

Olympic engagement

North Korea’s official KCNA news agency on Monday said restarting the drills would be a “provocative act” that would undermine Pyongyang’s recent efforts to “defuse tension and create a peaceful environment.”

Moon’s Olympic engagement efforts with the North, including marching together at the opening ceremony and fielding a unified women’s hockey team, has reduced inter-Korean tensions and brought about an invitation from the North Korean leader to host the South Korean president in Pyongyang for a leaders summit.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un meets members of the high-level delegation of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, which visited South Korea to attend the opening ceremony of the 23rd Winter Olympics.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un meets members of the high-level delegation of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, which visited South Korea to attend the opening ceremony of the 23rd Winter Olympics.

By participating in the Olympics, Pyongyang also embarked on what critics called a “charm offensive,” meant to improve its threatening image and weaken support for economic sanctions imposed for its continued nuclear violations.

Moon’s diplomatic outreach, however, has so far been unable to bring Washington and Pyongyang into direct talks to resolve the nuclear standoff. The U.S. will not engage in official negotiations until the North agrees to give up its nuclear program, which Pyongyang refuses to do, insisting that its nuclear weapons are needed to prevent a U.S. invasion.

“History does not give me much confidence that this will lead anywhere, especially when the bargaining position of the U.S. side is that the North does have to give up its weapon nuclear weapons and parts of its missile program,” said regional security analyst Grant Newsham with the Japan Forum for Strategic Studies in Tokyo.

The Trump administration recently indicated a willingness to support Moon’s efforts and engage in exploratory talks. U.S. officials on Tuesday said Vice President Mike Pence, who led the U.S. Olympic delegation at the Olympics opening ceremony, was planning to meet with Kim Yo Jong, the sister of the North Korean leader at the games, but North Korea canceled the meeting at the last minute.

However the vice president also clarified that the U.S. “maximum pressure” approach, which includes increasing economic sanctions and maintaining the credible threat of military force as well, would remain in place until the Kim government agrees to give up its nuclear weapons.

Lee Yoon-jee in Seoul contributed to this report.


Giving troops a pay raise might be hurting the military

The 2019 budget proposal, if enacted, would give service members their biggest pay raise in eight years, a 2.4 percent increase in pay. But despite how good it sounds in the headlines, an across-the-board pay raise may not be what the military needs right now.

The military already saw a 2.1 percent pay increase request for 2018, and as military personnel costs are rising, some experts in military personnel are asking if across-the-board pay raises are the right approach to better the force.

Jim Perkins, former executive director of the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum and an Army reservist, says military pay is outpacing the inflation rate and civilians doing the same job, education and experience as troops are only paid 83 percent to 90 percent what service members are paid.

A 2013 Center for New American Security (CNAS) study[1] suggests the same thing.

“One of the largest contributors to the trend of rising military personnel costs is the growth in cash compensation. Military personnel cash compensation increased by 52 percent between 2002 and 2010, adjusted for inflation. Over the past 12 years, pay increases for military personnel have grown much faster than both inflation and private sector compensation,” the study stated.

Service members are at an even bigger financial advantage because of housing and food subsidies through basic allowance for housing (BAH) and commissaries.

The study stated the Defense Department could save $25 billion over 10 years if Congress issued more reasonable pay increases.

A Feb. 5 Congressional Budget Office report[2] stated personnel costs have increased 46 percent since 2000. A total of 42 percent of that growth is from BAH and basic pay.

The study stated that personnel costs were $142.3 billion in 2014.

Perkins thinks the across-the-board raises are harmful to the military’s search for talented individuals, while keeping less motivated individuals in the service.

“As much as I want to say paying the military more is great. It’s not necessarily,” Perkins said. “Throwing money at this problem is not going to solve it or not in the way that we want it to be solved.”

Perkins used a personal example to explain. An officer he knew was laid off from the Army after being passed over for promotion from captain to major. He left the military and couldn’t find equivalent compensation in the civilian sector based on his experience. He ended up joining the reserves and became an activated reservist for a year. He was promoted to major in the reserves.

“Now he is doing the same job as an active-duty captain, but getting paid more to do it as a major. A role for which he was previously deemed not qualified and the whole reason he was doing this was the fact that he couldn’t be paid as well if he wasn’t in the military,” Perkins said. “This epitomizes the fact that for the low performers in the military, if they stay in the military they may be staying because they’re afraid of losing this wonderful paycheck and benefits package.”

On the other hand, high-performing service members feel their effort is not being compensated; instead they are getting the same treatment as a low-performer for doing more work.

High performers “are seeing their hard work and talent is not being rewarded and differently than the lazy shirker who is sitting next to them,” Perkins said.

Those high performers can easily find jobs in the private sector that will pay them the equivalent compensation and benefits or much higher.

Perkins added that in the few exit surveys the military conducts, troops say pay is not the reason they are leaving, but rather the rigidity of military life.

Perkins suggested more flexibility in how Congress pays people in the military.

“We need to be able to compensate and reward people for taking on different roles that are more highly demanded or places that are bigger hardships. We need to have more flexibility in how we retain very specific skill sets,” Perkins said. “Raising pay across the board doesn’t necessarily do anything to solve the specific problems of a pilot shortage.”

The military is catching on to this as it watches some of the most needed employees like pilots, cyber experts and people trained in nuclear skills.

The military is offering modest bonuses to pilots and other occupations and creating some programs to make the work-life balance more flexible.

But, not many have caught on or are still in the pilot phase.

Meanwhile, the military is missing out on talented individuals it needs.

“Propensity to serve is declining, and each of the services, as well as the civilian sector, are vying for the same limited talent pool. We are clearly in a war for talent. Current forecasts based on leading economic indicators suggest difficult times ahead,” Vice Adm. Robert Burke, the deputy chief of Naval Operations of Manpower, Personnel, Training and Education, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Feb. 14.

Military pay may be one of the issues hurting the effort.

Paying the military more across the board “is reflective of the divide and the guilt that exists between the civilians and the military. They don’t need to be paid more for what they’re doing and throwing money at this problem is not the way to solve it. Don’t say ‘Thank you for your service’ and then not realize we are sending troops to Niger. Don’t throw more money at the problem, get involved in the process,” Perkins said.


  1. ^ study (www.files.ethz.ch)
  2. ^ report (www.cbo.gov)