‘Ulchi Freedom Guardian (UFG)’, among the largest of all combined U.S.-South Korea military exercises, began this morning.
This year’s UFG, which runs until the 31st, features more than 30,000 U.S. forces from bases both in South Korea and elsewhere alongside 56,000 South Korean troops. There are also participating personnel from the UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Denmark, Norway and France dispatched by the UN, along with Swiss and Swedish observers from the Neutral Nations Supervisory Committee, the organization charged with ensuring that such exercises are undertaken in the appropriate manner.
As is ordinarily the case, the regime of Kim Jong Eun reacted with menacing rhetoric in advance of this year’s UFG. On Saturday, Rodong Shinmun reporting on a timely visit by Kim to the unit that shelled the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong on November 23rd, 2010, a trip during which he urged troops to defend the nation in the advent of an enemy attack. The same unit was also awarded a medal and a commendatory order from the state, a second Rodong Shinmun report announced on Sunday.
"The detachment of the Chosun People’s Army Unit 2939 hit targets to mercilessly smash the aggressive provocations of the enemy and display the spirit of the heroic People’s Army all over the world," the order from the Supreme People’s Assembly conferring the award asserted.
However, while such menacing rhetoric has raised the specter of North Korea engaging in a real attack on South Korea in response to the exercises, this is thought by experts to be unlikely.
Song Dae Sung of the Sejong Institute told Daily NK yesterday, “This is nothing more than a rhetorical threat to show that the Kim Jong Eun regime is not a pushover,” before adding, “North Korea is unlikely to provoke during this period.”
Prof. Kim Yeon Su of National Defense University agreed, saying, “While North Korea continues to put its strength into North Korea-China economic cooperation, China has repeatedly emphasized that this is conditional upon Korean Peninsula security. Therefore, North Korea is unlikely to provoke unless this is no longer the case.”