S. Korea joins US, Japan for first multi-domain drills at a time of escalating tensions

Posted on : 2024-06-28 17:13 KST Modified on : 2024-06-28 18:08 KST
Freedom Edge marks the first trilateral drills between South Korea, the US and Japan of their kind, and is highlighting new Cold War divisions in the world
The USS Theodore Roosevelt, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier belonging to US Carrier Strike Group Nine, enters port in Busan, South Korea, on June 22, 2024. (courtesy of the ROK Navy) 
The USS Theodore Roosevelt, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier belonging to US Carrier Strike Group Nine, enters port in Busan, South Korea, on June 22, 2024. (courtesy of the ROK Navy) 

After North Korea launched trash-laden balloons in response to leaflets launched by defectors in the South, the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff said Thursday that Seoul would “have no choice” but to resume loudspeaker broadcasts along the border if the balloon launches continue. After carrying out the first maritime artillery drills on North Korea-adjacent Baengnyeong Island and Yeonpyeong Island in seven years on Wednesday, South Korea went on to join the US and Japan for their first multi-domain military exercise in international waters south of Jeju Island on Thursday. 

Amid already high inter-Korean tensions over waste balloons and leaflets campaigns, North Korea and Russia signed a new military pact on June 19 in Pyongyang, escalating the confrontation between the US, South Korea and Japan on one side and North Korea and Russia on the other.

The Joint Chiefs announced that the militaries of South Korea, US and Japanese kicked off their joint Freedom Edge drills on Thursday. 

“These multi-domain exercises are being held in accordance with agreements made during the trilateral summit at Camp David in August of last year. They are also in accordance with trilateral agreements reached by our respective defense minister in June of last year in Singapore,” the Joint Chiefs said.  

“Freedom Edge expresses the free will of the ROK, US and Japan to promote trilateral interoperability and protect freedom for peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific, including the Korean Peninsula,” the Joint Chiefs announced. 

Freedom Edge takes its name from Ulchi Freedom Shield, a joint US-South Korea exercise, and Keen Edge, a joint US-Japan exercise. The exercise features South Korea’s ROKS Seoae Ryu Seong-ryong, an Aegis-class destroyer, and the ROKS Gang Gam-Chan; America’s USS Theodore Roosevelt, a Nimitz-class, nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, as well as the USS Halsey, USS Daniel Inouye, and P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft; and Japan’s JS Ise and destroyer JS Atago. 

This is the first multi-domain exercise by the three countries, meaning drills are conducted not only on land, in the air, and at sea, but encompass cyber and space domains as well. The US is expanding the breadth of its exercises to counter the growing threat from China and North Korea. If South Korea partakes in a US-led multi-domain operation, it must take on the burden of actively partaking in Washington’s China-containment strategy. 

China's Guizhou WZ-7 Soaring Dragon, a high-altitude drone, entered South Korea’s air defense identification zone on June 25, flying close to Jeju Island. The move was likely a nod from China regarding the nature of the Freedom Edge drills. 

“South Korea, the US and Japan have agreed to use these exercises to expand the breadth of Freedom Edge,” the Joint Chiefs announced. 

In related developments, the Joint Chiefs announced on Thursday that it had opted to forgo loudspeaker broadcasts that day. 

“If North Korea continues to send balloons filled with paper and waste across the border, however, we will have no choice but to resume loudspeaker broadcasts.”

In response to North Korea’s waste balloons, South Korea conducted around two hours of loudspeaker broadcasts on June 9, but has not resumed them since. 

On June 13, the UN Command announced that it was investigating the balloon launches and other events in connection with possible violations of the Armistice Agreement. 

North Korea has taken issue with launches of propaganda leaflets across the border. Kim Yo-jong, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, issued a statement warning, “It is natural that there would be something trouble to happen as they did again what they had been urged not to do.”

Since Monday, North Korea has sent nearly 1,000 balloons carrying waste across the border. Over 270 of those balloons have been discovered in Seoul and in regions south of the capital.

By Lee Je-hun, senior staff writer; Kwon Hyuk-chul, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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