The Max Thunder US aerial exercises in South Korea were cited on Tuesday as North Korea’s reason for cancelling talks with the South, and led to warnings about the US summit. Most of the world was relatively surprised that the major exercises had happened at all.
That’s not an accident. In recent months, the Pentagon has been very unwilling to discuss anything it’s doing in South Korea, and while April’s exercises were known, specifics were largely gleaned from third parties. This is a major shift from the Pentagon’s usual hyping of every war game they hold.
This managed to keep Max Thunder not only off the front pages, but largely out of the news entirely. The operation wasn’t technically a secret, but it wasn’t exactly reported either. Given its potential to inflame tensions ahead of the Kim-Trump summit, it’s not surprising the Pentagon didn’t want to talk about it.
All of this kept the media away from the story until North Korea responded, but it’s not like it was ever going to keep North Korea from noticing large aerial exercises on their southern border. It just made North Korea’s backlash a surprise to everyone, and led some in the media to act like it came out of nowhere, for no reason.
In reality, the Pentagon is being less than transparent about their operations in South Korea, which is troubling in general, but especially so if it threatens an historic opportunity for a peace treaty with North Korea.