While most of the agreements confirmed to have come out of the Trump-Kim summit were pretty straightforward, advancing on the already discussed denuclearization, the meeting also ended with an announcement that the US will suspend all joint military exercises with South Korea.
US war games in South Korea are a big source of tension between the two sides, with Trump conceding they are “provocative.” Tensions between the US and North Korea have historically soared in the spring, when the largest exercises take place.
War games even almost derailed the summit. After a shorter than usual spring exercise, the US and South Korea had aerial war games near the North Korean border, with US nuclear-capable bombers. This led to North Korean condemnation, and Trump briefly cancelling the summit.
South Korea even had to intervene after that diplomatic row, and convince the US not to follow that up with another war game. Interestingly, South Korea now says it wants “clarity” on the end to the war games.
Though the Pentagon has claimed all those war games, most of which simulate attacks on North Korea, are “necessary,” analysts say they doubt suspending them will have any real impact on US military capabilities.
Declining tensions with North Korea and the lack of major war games is also likely to spark discussions about cutting US troop levels in South Korea. There is really little reason for the troops to be there as it is, and without the war games they don’t even have the annual chance to simulate being a military need.
The end of the war games is well-timed for the first summit in what is expected to be a series of meetings, as it both has a large visible impact and allows for bigger deals to be built upon this in the months to come.