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Thornberry: Exercises With South Korea Important, But Could Be Suspended to Allow North Korean Talks to Succeed

The forward-deployed Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Stethem (DDG-63) joins Republic of Korea Navy ships for a photo exercise with the aircraft Carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) on Oct. 18, 2017. US Navy Photo

CAPITOL HILL — After President Donald Trump’s announcement this week that military exercises with South Korea would stop while negotiations take place with North Korea, the head of the House Armed Services Committee told reporters he believes exercising and training with allies is important but that he would support halting these events to allow negotiations to succeed.

Though the president’s statement after this week’s meeting in Singapore with North Korea’s Chairman Kim Jong Un was vague – that “we will be stopping the war games, which will save us a tremendous amount of money, unless and until we see the future negotiation is not going along like it should” – HASC Chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) said his understanding was that the U.S. would look at suspending its two annual large-scale joint military exercises with South Korea, one in the fall and in the spring.

“You’ve got to give these negotiations every opportunity to succeed, so postponing – as long as the negotiations are being productive – these particular joint exercises that were planned for August: okay, well this is an opportunity to hold their feet to the fire and see if North Korea is serious about this,” Thornberry said during a media gaggle today.
“If they’re not serious, then it’s pretty easy to say, okay, those joint exercises that were scheduled for August are now going to happen in September or October.”

The Navy and Marine Corps have a full slate of regularly scheduled exercises with partners and allies – and in particular with its close Pacific treaty allies of South Korea and Japan. The sea services have made clear that any potential future fight in the Pacific – be it against North Korea, China, Russia or any other adversary – would not be fought alone, but rather with a network of allies. Therefore, the constant training is meant to ensure they could come together seamlessly in the event of a conflict.

House Armed Services Committee chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas)

Though Thornberry said “we’re not suspending RIMPAC or other big naval exercises; my understanding is it’s simply these joint exercises we do with the South Koreans that will be suspended as long as the negotiations are progressing in a positive direction,” the two annual joint training exercises are larger in scale than most events and offer unique opportunities that other exercises do not. For example, in March and April the Navy and Marine Corps amassed two big-deck amphibious assault ships, including one operating with the F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, during Ssang Yong amphibious exercise that falls under the Foal Eagle umbrella. There are few other opportunities on the event calendar to focus on U.S.-South Korean collaboration on such a large scale.

Despite his agreement that joint training exercises between the U.S. and South Korea should be suspended during negotiations with North Korea, Thornberry did add that “it’s important to remain airtight with Japan and South Korea, to prevent [North Korea] from driving a wedge between us.”

Adding to the complexity of the situation is that military exercises in the Pacific don’t just send messages to North Korea, they also send messages to China. Thornberry said he and other HASC members recently traveled to the Indo-Pacific and to the Shangri-La Dialogues, and “we got further first-hand evidence of the full range of Chinese efforts to advance their agenda around the world. There’s a tendency to think, oh, they just want to control East Asia. Well, that’s not so. They want to control vital waterways, develop debt-dependency in a whole variety of places around the world, and so we saw some of that first-hand but we also tried to deliver a bipartisan message that the U.S. is committed to the Indo-Pacific region.”

When meeting with defense ministers and other leaders of India, Sri Lanka, the Philippines and more, Thornberry said the lawmakers sought to deliver a “united message of, we’re serious about our commitment, and don’t let others whispering that the United States is a declining power, the United States is going to bug out on you or any of those other sorts of whispers, get any traction because it’s not true.”

Whatever happens with military exercises with South Korea during the negotiation process, Thornberry said it would be important to “continue to strengthen our military and not slacken our efforts at all. I believe that was a helpful factor in leading Kim Jong Un to believe he had to do something differently. But whatever these negotiations do, we need better missile defense, we need more ships, we need planes that fly – the things we’ve talked about a lot. We need to continue to pursue those things even as the negotiations continue.”

“My fundamental belief is that we must maintain and strengthen our military position, partly because I think that aids negotiations, partly because if negotiations go sour we’re going to need it,” the chairman added.

  • waveshaper1

    We did something similar to this type of stuff back in the late 1980’s/early 1990’s in Europe/NATO back when Reagan/Bush were President. These US/NATO actions were in direct response to the US/USSR Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF-Treaty) which went into effect in 1988, ongoing comprehensive START Treaty negotiations, and finally the collapse of the USSR in late Dec 1991. Basically we started scaling back our troop levels/equipment/armament, cancelling or scaling back our exercises, etc, etc. Here’s one of maaaany Examples; The massive “Reforger Exercise” was cancelled in 1989 and by the early 1990’s it was officially terminated (many other NATO exercise were also terminated or scaled way back). The downside is now that Russia is acting up we are starting to ramp some of this stuff back up again.

  • DaSaint

    I don’t have a problem with scaling back the exercises for the next few months, to see if there’s a window of opportunity here. It’s an unconventional (sorry, I couldn’t resist!) way to get here, but we’re here, and it could work, so why not give it a shot.

    I would keep troop and deployment levels consistent in SK however. And I certainly wouldn’t change my stance at all regarding Japan.

  • angharad

    Thornberry will get all the understanding he needs from the Generals who report to the President.

  • proudrino

    Thank you for using the term “exercises.” The anti-Trump media has continuously used the term “war games” because they have zero understanding of the military.

    • MLepay

      However war games is what POTUS calls them so this is an accurate representation of the prevailing terminology. Listen to the post summit press conference again. He was very specific on this because as we know he knows a lot about planes.

    • Duane

      I cannot believe you wrote that!!!

      Trump used the term “war games” in his tweets announcing their cancellation.

      The so called “lying media” quoted Trump direct.

      Look up “cult” in the dictionary, to find out what you’ve signed up for.

      • proudrino

        I can’t believe you are such a hypocrite, bullyboy.

        If it had been President Obama who accomplished this start at a framework for peace, you would be singing a different tune. You condemn stuff based on hatred of the President and not fact or reason., Talk about cultish behavior.

  • proudrino

    Despite his agreement that joint training exercises between the U.S. and
    South Korea should be suspended during negotiations with North Korea,
    Thornberry did add that “it’s important to remain airtight with Japan
    and South Korea, to prevent [North Korea] from driving a wedge between

    The fact that Secretary Pompeo is still in the region and making calls on our allies and China should help with these concerns.

  • proudrino

    What deal? President Trump and “Supreme Leader” Kim Jong Un agreed to a framework. The devil is still in the details which will be presented to Congress as a treaty (unlike the corrupt Iran Deal that Obama did for legacy purposes only). Sanctions remain in place.

    That being said, the exercises have consistently been a source of irritation for NK. If cancelling a few exercises helps to build the framework, then so be it. I thought 7th Fleet was over-committed anyway. If Kim Jong Un proves uncooperative, exercises with SK can always be scheduled.

    • DaSaint

      It’s not quite ‘a few exercises’. This is the major annual exercise with SK. But yes, let’s see if anything progresses. I’m sure the planning was and is always extensive, so any delay causes a host of resulting problems, but it’s not planned to commence until August anyway. Let’s see if progress is made in the next couple months, not that that’s a lot of time for anything. Maybe a symbolic scaling back of some aircraft deployments.

  • Ed L

    Then they can plan for joint unified korean exercises in five or six years

    • Duane

      You mean by “they”, Kim and Xi, after Trump abandons ROK and east Asia? Yup, I’ll bet those guys are already making their plans to “unify the Korean peninsula”.

  • John Locke

    Cancelling the exercises is indicative of Trumps child-like understanding of the military.

    Well played Mr. Kim, well played.

    • Chesapeakeguy

      This is proof of the points I constantly make about the snowflakes of the American left on venues like this who are actually PULLING FOR Lil Kim. The thought of the USA actually accomplishing a lasting and meaningful act just sickens them. Think about it. Lil Kim is actually NEGOTIATING with Trump, which is something the DEMOCRAT PARTY will not do. They are only interested in protecting ‘God’s children’, or as the rest of us know them as, MS-13. As I am also fond of pointing out, the American left and their Democrat Party abettors have never, EVER, met a communist they didn’t adore. The only good thing I can glean out of these efforts failing and the status quo being returned to is that NK is predicted to be able to strike the American Left Coast soon. Oh, the irony, of North Korean nukes taking out huge chunks of The People’s Republik Of Kalifornia. But for myself, I personally do not want to swim in the same sewer as the American left. I want NK neutered from being able to cause such mayhem, even to my fellow citizens who are stupid enough to be in bed with the Democrat Party.

      • Duane

        The melting snowflakes are the right wingnuts like you who go ballistic every time someone cites facts on what Trump does and says. You can’t handle the truth, so you cry like spoiled little girls and cry “haters!” at those who simply speak the truth.

        • Chesapeakeguy

          Oh Duane, like all committed leftists everywhere on venues like this, you can’t even be original. Now you’re dependent on the rest of us to provide you notes from which you can plagiarize and try to use. LOL. Actually, it’s kinda gratifying. You go, girl!

          • Duane

            I am no more a committed leftist than Donald Trump, or you, are a truthteller. I am a committed smart and practical person who does not tolerate lying, cheating, draft dodging selfish traitorous louts like Trump. I voted GOP for 44 years until the GOP lost its mind and nominated Trump. Now I am a registered independent.

            And oh btw, everybody knows that Trump is not conservative. Trump and his cult followers like you are just cultists.

          • Chesapeakeguy

            You ought to be ‘committed’ Duane. LOL. It could only help you. ‘Trump be a cultist’. Ahh, your Democrat Party provided talking points on full display again. ‘Cult’. ‘Russians’. ‘Russian trolls’.


  • Hugh

    There is a LOT more going on in the background between all stakeholder nations.

  • C.E.Rice

    While I like and respect Congressman Thornberry, I must disagree with him that it would be easy to push back the exercise dates. As many of us know, it takes a lot of planning and a lot of people (active duty and reserve) must schedule a ton of events months in advance. If POTUS wants to suspend the exercises, that’s his call. But, postponing these exercises for a month or two is not a simple matter…at least, in my opinion.

  • hollygreen9

    I would like to go back and run over another Russian submarine like we did in 1984 onboard USS Kitty Hawk!

  • Duane

    Thornberry is just another member of the Cult of Trump.

    If Obama has done this, Thornberry would have been leading the impeachment parade in the House.

    • John Locke

      Trump saluted a North Korean General. Imagine the frenzied foaming at the mouth if Obama had done that. It was bad enough when he demonstrated common courtesy.

      • Chesapeakeguy

        If Obama was involved, he would have BOWED DOWN to whoever was in front of him. Also, that photo came from North Korea. Last I saw it has not been verified or vetted as real. But if it is, and Trump returned a salute, that is accepted protocol. Geezz, you Democrats have never met a communist that you didn’t want to ‘Lewinski’, now Trump doesn’t spit on one, and you all demand that we nuke North Korea? You Democrats sure are a convoluted race. LOL..

        • muzzleloader


        • John Locke

          LOL, love the Trumpsplain and cultural ignorance.
          LOL, Dems wanting to nuke DPRK……… it wasn’t too long ago that Trump was threatening to send DPRK “fire and fury like the world has never seen”

          Have some more hyperbole with that kool-aid you’re drinking.

          • Chesapeakeguy

            Yes, it was indeed a rather short time ago that Trump took on North Korea via their own kind of rhetoric. And look at the results. He’s not doing things ‘the Swamp way’, he’s trying new approaches. Maybe you snowflakes will get your way and these efforts will fail and the old status quo will return. But until then, most normal people (‘normal people’ is defined here as those not wrapped up in the ‘Progressive’ mindset and agenda) will give things a chance and do what our President is advising and “Wait and see”. Keep your fingers crossed, maybe the nukes will fly. I’m sure that will mean Trump wont get a Nobel Peace Prize. But hey, what real chance does he have at that?. After all, he’s not the right demographic like his predecessor was. I mean, that IS why Obama got the Prize, right? Hmmm?

  • Chesapeakeguy

    Hmmm. JFK pulled missiles from Turkey and other locales as a result of a Soviet demand. Obama rewarded the Iranians for their takeover of our Embassy and their subsequent support for decades of terrorist activities. Trump initiates a good faith gesture WHILE negotiations continue with North Korea, which is a LOGICAL and SMART thing to do, and we see the usual hypocritical hissy fits from the usual suspects in this life. If no deal is achieved with NK, those exercises will begin anew and with renewed vigor, you can be assured of that. But, those usual suspects I mentioned are still free to pull against their own country. You can’t be a card carrying leftist these days unless you do so. What a country, eh?

  • proudrino

    The original post referred to the agreement between the US and NK on Tuesday. Nothing that came out of that commitment to create a framework for peace undermines other commitments to our allies in the region or the defense of the US. It is part of the reason why SECSTATE is still in the region talking to allies and China. Put your partisan hatred of our President aside and try to keep up with what is really going on. You come off a bit unhinged, which I am assuming isn’t your intent.

    • Duane

      I am a member of no party, so am not “partisan” as you and all the other Trumpkins are, and if the POTUS were a democrat and did what Trump did this week tou’d all be screaming your bloody heads off demanding imoeachment and a trial for treason. You know that of course, as does everyone else. You are fooling nobody. Certainly not fooling Putin, Xi, and Kim whi kniw they now own Trump lock, stock, and barrel.

  • Duane

    But Trump (not “we”) DOES say he trusts Kim, and furthermore Trump says Kim is a great leader for murdering all his competitors in NK including his own family members .. and furthermore declares that he, Trump alone, denuclearized Korea … meaning Trump must trust Kim or he could not claim to have denuclearized Korea.

    • Chesapeakeguy

      The butt hurt burns more intensely with each passing day, doesn’t it Duane? Guess who WON the election, and who LOST? LOL. You can always move to one of your socialist paradises in Europe or Canada. 0I just KNOW that you and your ilk will never move to Mexico, because you don’t want anything to do with THOSE people beyond getting them into this country and to the voting booths).

  • Chesapeakeguy

    As is ALWAYS the case with you Duane, you miss the most OBVIOUS points. The US had decided to remove missiles from Turkey and other locations well before the Cuban Missile Crisis developed. But when Kruschev demanded that those missiles be removed as a condition for removing the missiles from Cuba, it was a win-win for all. They BOTH got something. Trump doing what GHW Bush and Bill Clinton did in the early ’90s is the very same thing. Exercises MIGHT not happen in AUGUST if the ONGOING negotiations with North Korea bear ANY kind of fruit. What is so difficult for you and the other snowflakes on here to understand about all that?

    And YES, Duane, Obama’s giving back money and assets that were impounded, among other things, is absolutely a reward to Iran for their decades of terrorist sponsoring and their brazen, and thanks to Obama successful, attack on our embassy there.

    “…then returning what you took is not a reward…”. Geezz, the ignorance is strong with this one. Did we get our embassy or any other properties seized by the Iranians back? Embassies are sovereign property of their countries. Obama surrendered yet again, just like he did in Iraq (and ultimately Syria). That is undeniable historic fact. Dry them eyes snowflake, it be what it be. LOL.. .

  • Chesapeakeguy

    No Duane. WRONG again, as always. Pointing out facts that are indeed facts is merely another thing in this life that is beyond your comprehension. JFK gave Kruschev something he could claim a win for. LOOK IT UP! I realized a long time ago that if I am to endeavor to write posts that you might have a chance at understanding, I would really have to dumb down literally everything I present on here. Duane, I am incapable of going that LOW on the intellectual scale. They will obviously remain far over your hat holder!

    Oh, and Duane? I’ve done nothing but read and hear how Reagan COLLUDED with your beloved Iranians to hold those hostages so that your icon Carter would lose the 1980 election. That is GOSPEL among your fellow Democrats and other leftists. Now you’re gonna tell us that Regan scared them? Talk about ‘back flips’! LOL. Oh Duane, don’t ever change. I know that you can’t, but please don’t try. The comedy is priceless.

  • Chesapeakeguy

    ‘Another Russian troll’. Th same tin g you spew when your beloved LCS is criticized. The very same thing you vomit out when your inan e antics are pointed and they bite you in your backside (in your case, where that tiny brsain of yours resides). Facts and truth are on my side Duane. They always are when anything concerns you. And you know it. I OWN you. Live with it. LOL..

    Run along now. I don’t want you to miss yet another re-run of ‘Jerry Springer’. LOL..

  • .Hugo.

    and so can nk’s missile program.