Monday, December 4, 2017

U.S. Parades New Warplanes in Military Drill With South Korea: North Korea condemns the exercise as a ‘prelude to nuclear war’

The Wall Street Journal 
By Andrew Jeong
Dec. 4, 2017 3:35 a.m. ET

SEOUL—The U.S. and South Korean militaries began five days of simulated war drills on the peninsula Monday, involving bombers, fighters and thousands of troops, less than a week after North Korea tested its most advanced missile.

The annual drills, known as Vigilant Ace, are aimed at developing interoperability between the two countries’ air forces, a spokesman for South Korea’s Defense Ministry told reporters at a briefing in Seoul.

About 12,000 U.S. military personnel stationed in South Korea, Japan and other regions, along with an undisclosed number of South Korean troops, are taking part in the maneuvers, which will feature latest-generation stealth U.S. fighters such as F-22s and F-35s.

The U.S. military said the drills are “comparable in size to previous Vigilant Ace exercises” and aren’t in response to “any incident or provocation.” But six F-22s, six F-35As and 12 F-35B jets are new to this exercise, it added.

The drills come as tensions build over North Korea’s missile program. Some security analysts fear Pyongyang is close to mastering the technology needed to hit U.S. cities with nuclear-tipped missiles.

North Korea last week tested its new Hwasong-15 missile, which experts suspect is capable of reaching Washington, D.C. Doubt remains, however, over whether the North could successfully fit a nuclear warhead atop the missile and ensure it could survive re-entry through the earth’s atmosphere.

Comments from a senior Trump administration official and a U.S. lawmaker over the weekend appeared to suggest war may be approaching.

National security adviser Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster said in an interview on Fox News on Sunday that the U.S. could “take care of” North Korea by “doing more ourselves.”

“If necessary, the president and the United States will have to take care of it, because [President Trump ] has said he’s not going to allow this murderous, rogue regime to threaten the United States with the most destructive weapons on the planet,” Gen. McMaster said.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) on Sunday urged the Pentagon to evacuate families of the 28,500 U.S. troops in South Korea.

As the allies kicked off the joint drills, North Korea’s state-run newspaper Rodong Sinmun on Monday condemned the maneuvers as a “prelude to nuclear war,” according to the North’s Korean Central News Agency. Pyongyang won’t just sit and watch the “provocations,” the newspaper said.

China on Monday urged all sides to avoid exacerbating the “highly sensitive” situation on the Korean Peninsula.

“We hope all relevant parties can exercise restraint and do more to help ease tensions on the peninsula,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters at a regular briefing.

Defense analysts cautioned against viewing the Vigilant Ace exercises as preparations for an attack on the North, but said the maneuvers could lead to serious escalations and could be used as an excuse by Pyongyang to further its weapons development.

Kim Dong-yub, professor of security studies at the Institute for Far Eastern Studies, a think tank at Kyungnam University, said Pyongyang would likely interpret the drills as a response to its latest missile launch. It would then respond with another provocation, convincing the South and the U.S. to carry out another training exercise, he said.

“Unless either the North or us becomes the first person to back down, a real war becomes possible, as things steadily escalate,” he said.

Adam Mount, a senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists for nuclear and defense policy, said a single “radar blip or a mistaken field report” by North Korean officials could lead Pyongyang to strike first.

He also noted that this year’s exercise is “significantly upgunned” compared with last year’s.

“Adding stealth and bomber aircraft makes the drill appear less like a defensive exercise and more like a rehearsal for attack,” Mr. Mount said.

—Lingling Wei in Beijing contributed to this article.

Original article can be found here:  https://www.wsj.com

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