Editor’s note: Global Atlanta Managing Editor Trevor Williams is traveling in South Korea, reporting on Georgia’s deepening trade and investment ties there. Check here for updates and new entries.
Exchanging pleasantries with city officials in Daegu, one told me they’d stayed up nearly all night for the military drills taking place throughout the country this week, their commencement coinciding with my first full day here.
It was anecdotal evidence of what I had been told before leaving — that the resumption of the drills would be an all-of-government effort and would likely knock out the chances to interview many officials. I hadn’t thought about how this would trickle down even to the third largest city in the country.
The drills were greatly reduced under President Trump, who sought to curry favor with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in hopes of reaching a breakthrough on curbing its nuclear program. After historic meetings heavy on pageantry and light on substance, Kim has continued firing intercontinental ballistic missiles and developing his nuclear capabilities. During his time in the White House, Mr. Trump also rocked the boat on U.S. forces in the country, suggesting (falsely) the Koreans were not paying for their own protection.
Gen. Vincent Brooks, the retired commander of American forces in Korea, said during a recent forum in Atlanta that ending the exercises as a bargaining chip dented the readiness of the U.S. and South Korean forces, and many boosters of the U.S>-Korea alliance welcomed their return, especially given the acute focus on cyber threats and other potential impacts to economic infrastructure. (Axios has a detailed report on what’s going on here).
I head out on a DMZ tour today, and I’m told there is a chance I’ll see some South Korean tanks returning to the capital, where life goes on as normal. It’s a reminder that a nation that built a powerhouse in the aftermath of war sees no tension in maintaining both its military readiness and dynamism, largely thanks to the assurance of U.S. military support.