Assessing the 2015 Spring Exercise Season: Trying Hard to Stick to Business

Korea Chair Platform

The first week of March marked the start of Key Resolve (March 2-13) and Foal Eagle (March 2-April 24) which – together with Ulchi Freedom Guardian in the late summer – are the largest U.S.-Republic of Korea (ROK) joint military exercises held in South Korea each year. They consist of two separate drills, with Key Resolve involving computer simulations at the command level and Foal Eagle involving field-training exercises that combine air, land, and sea elements. The exercises have been conducted since 2002 in their current tandem form, (though Key Resolve until 2008 was referred to as Reception, Staging, Onward Movement, and Integration, or RSOI, which replaced the larger Team Spirit exercises in the 1990s). This year Key Resolve involved around 10,000 South Korean and 8,600 U.S. troops, while some 200,000 Korean and 3,700 American troops are participating in Foal Eagle.

Spring exercise season each year brings some fairly predictable behavior, prompting the baseline of U.S. and ROK tensions with North Korea to increase a few notches for the duration of the drills – like the peninsula’s version of groundhog’s day. Year after year, the U.S. emphasizes the routine, defensive nature of the exercises and stresses that they are not related to “current situations” on the peninsula or elsewhere in the world. In turn, North Korea, year after year, equates the exercises to war preparations for which it will retaliate (using different variants of more colorful language) and makes every effort to link the exercises to other issues.