As part of the White House's ongoing attempts for North Korean denuclearization and as relations continue to thaw between Pyongyang and Seoul, President Trump last month cancelled previously scheduled US military exercises with South Korea's armed forces.
But a top general has testified before Congress that this pause in joint military exercises is hurting American troop readiness in the region.
In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, Army General Robert Abrams said that Trump's decision has led to a “slight degradation” in American readiness.
Abrams is the president's own nominee to lead US forces in Korea. However the comments came as the soon to be top US military commander in the Korean peninsula broadly defended Trump's calculated diplomatic concessions to the North which are designed to slowly ease tensions.
“The suspension of military exercises … was a prudent risk if we’re willing to make the effort to change the relationship with [Pyongyang],” explained Abrams, who heads Army Forces Command. “I think there is certainly degradation to the readiness of the force. That’s a key exercise to maintain continuity and to continue to practice our interoperability, and so there was a slight degradation.”
Gen. Abrams testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington on Tuesday. He's been nominated to take command of U.S. and allied forces in South Korea. (image via AP)
Trump announced last June just after meeting with North Korea's Kim Jong Un in Singapore for their historic summit that the US would suspend "select" exercises with South Korea.
At the time Trump had described the war games as highly "provocative" and cancelled large scale regularly scheduled exercises that had been slated for August.
The suspension of joint exercises formed a key topic of discussion during Tuesday's committee hearing with Democrat Senators pressing the general on how many scheduled training exercises could be skipped before US forces were severely hindered from maintaining adequate levels of readiness.
Gen. Abrams said this would be “hard to judge” but added that he would “apply that judgement based on what I assess on the ground.”
Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) asked the following at a key point during the hearing: “If Kim Jong Un offers to remove illegally obtained ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons for lawfully deployed U.S. troops on the Korean Peninsula, do you think that would be a smart decision, and tactically and strategically that would be good for our posture not just on the Korean Peninsula but in the region?”
The General responded: “Tactically, without any mention of any change in his conventional capability, there would be a significant amount of risk,” and he added that Russia and China would be “strongly encouraged” by such a scenario.
Sen. Sullivan replied: “We think it would be strategically disastrous and the fact the administration seems to be toying with it is very troubling. And Congress doesn’t support it.”
China and Russia have pursued closer ties of late, for the first time conducting major joint exercises as part of the Vostok-2018 early this month. Hawkish Congressional leaders have worried that the North Koreans could be engaged in stall tactics meant in part to weaken US military preparedness on the peninsula.