On Aug. 25, President Donald Trump called the joint training exercises between the U.S. and Korea a “total waste of money,” adding, “I don’t think they were necessary either,” on the subject of recent, already-downsized drills. President Trump said this to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe before the Group of Seven summit of major industrial nations in France. More seriously, he expressed this opinion only because the exercises “upset” Kim Jong Un, supreme leader of North Korea. The U.S.- South Korea alliance is a military alliance meant to assure each country’s mutual safety, and at the core of such an alliance is uniting the might of both countries’ armies through joint training. But Trump didn’t hesitate to make statements diminishing the alliance, instead, worrying about the opinions of the enemy, North Korea’s leader. And even this didn’t come during a private meeting with South Korea’s president, but instead to the world’s press in front of a Japanese leader.
This isn’t the first comment President Trump has made with the intent to diminish the alliance between the U.S. and South Korea. Last June, after the U.S.-North Korea summit in Singapore, Trump revealed that he wished to end joint training exercises, saying that “they are tremendously expensive.” Last February, after the abrupt conclusion to the U.S.-North Korea summit in Hanoi, he said, “I gave that up quite a while ago because it costs us $100 million every time we do it.” These statements had already been getting increasingly worse, but after President Moon Jae-in went against the wishes of the United States and ended the General Security of Military Information Agreement, Trump’s remarks turned extreme. The gradual ending of exercises like Key Resolve, Foal Eagle, and Ulchi-Freedom Guardian has turned the U.S.-South Korea alliance into a mere “paper alliance.”
The necessity of the U.S.-South Korea alliance is so great that it does not require explanation. President Moon should be persuading the U.S. of the importance of the exercises, but he follows along instead. This is because he recognizes that the exercises must be stopped to advance talks with North Korea. Already, North Korea, China and Russia are publicly disregarding South Korea. If the U.S.-China trade war gets worse, South Korea will suffer the most. If the Moon administration turns away from strengthening the alliance, who will protect our safety and economy?
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