U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision last month to cancel military exercises with South Korea triggered a “slight degradation” in American readiness, based on the president’s nominee to lead U.S. Forces.
Army Gen. Robert Abrams, in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, defended the president’s decision being a calculated diplomatic concession to North Korea that won’t cause any long-term damage to U.S. troops’ training or even the relationship with South Korean leaders.
“The suspension of military exercises would have been a prudent risk if we’re willing to take the time to switch their connection with Pyongyang,” said Abrams, who heads Army Forces Command. “I think there is certainly degradation on the readiness of the force. That’s an important exercise to keep up continuity and still practice our interoperability, and thus there would have been a slight degradation.”
In June, after Trump met North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore, the United States said it would suspend “select” exercises with South Korea, such as the large-scale Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercises scheduled for August. Trump described the exercises as “war games” and highly “provocative.”
The springtime Key Resolve/Foal Eagle drills with South Korea are currently being planned, although the decision to resume them is going to be “a decision by our alliance leaders,” Abrams said. He expressed confidence in U.S. Forces Korea’s mitigation plan, which includes “smaller-level-of-staff exercises that might not be with the same scale, scope and volume inside the information domain.”
The exercises was a layout among Democrats, and Abrams from time to time said however circle back with lawmakers, if confirmed. It would be “hard to judge” what number of such large-scale military exercises can be skipped, he was quoted saying at some point, adding although “apply that judgement determined by what I assess on the floor.”
Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, pressed Abrams to present his “personal opinion” whether the removal of U.S. troops from South Korea, as Trump has discussed, could be “disastrous” or “really bad.” Sullivan said the administration stood a “blind spot” and insisted lawmakers will be in bipartisan agreement that they can not authorize such a move.
“If Kim Jong Un proposes to remove illegally obtained ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons for lawfully deployed U.S. troops about the Korean Peninsula, think that would be a good decision, and tactically and strategically that could be best for our posture not merely on the Korean Peninsula but within the region?”
“Tactically, without mention from a alteration of his conventional capability, there could be a great deal of risk,” Abrams said, before acknowledging amid Sullivan’s questions, that Russia and China can be “strongly encouraged” by such a scenario.
Replied Sullivan: “We think it could be strategically disastrous as well as the fact the administration seems to be toying by it is incredibly troubling. And Congress doesn’t support it.”
Abrams would replace Army Gen. Vincent Brooks in the helm of some 28,500 American troops located in South Korea with a crucial time. Seoul and Washington are engaged in high-wire diplomatic efforts to influence the North to offer up its nuclear weapons.
On Tuesday, Trump spoke at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, where he thanked Kim for his cooperation in diplomatic talks but said sanctions would remain in effect until total denuclearization occurs.
Asked earlier to gauge the threat from Pyongyang, Abrams stated it remains an important threat and described the current situation as “a temporary pause and detente,” adding that military posture have not changed because diplomatic approach takes place.
It ended up 300 days since Pyongyang’s last provocation there continues to be military-to-military communications in the senior officer level between North Korea and also the United Nations the first time in 11 years, he was quoted saying.
Reacting to South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s defense reform efforts, Abrams acknowledged there would be a decline in capability but touted Seoul’s promises to increase defense spending by 8.7 percent, to 2.7 percent of their gross domestic product, the greatest associated with a treaty ally of the U.S.