Various annually scheduled US wargames in and around the Korean Peninsula almost always provoke an increase in tension for their duration. The upcoming Ulchi-Freedom Guardian (UFG) exercise is particularly ill-timed on that front, coming amid dangerously high tensions already.
The exercise, which begins Monday, will last 10 days, and involve 20,500 foreign troops in a simulated defense of South Korea from an invasion by North Korea. The exercise is the largest annual computerized command-and-control operation in the world. North Korea has termed the decision to hold the exercise a “catastrophe.”
17,500 US soldiers will participate, along with troops from Australia, New Zealand, multiple NATO member nations, and Colombia. US officials say the exercise is designed to “increase readiness,” though again this comes after weeks of claiming that US troops were already ready for war with North Korea at a moment’s notice.
US officials have rightly noted that the exercise was planned and announced far in advance, but that still doesn’t change the fact that right now it’s going to be seen as a huge provocation, and is likely to provoke another North Korean response, putting the two sides back on a course for war after a few days of relative calm.