The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan has reached the Korean peninsula for the start of major joint military exercises between the US and South Korea.
Washington and Seoul announced Monday that they would hold joint exercises for the first time in half a decade to increase the military preparedness of both allies, in a show of power targeting North Korea.
The aircraft carrier and ships of the accompanying attack coalition docked Friday at a naval base in South Korea’s southern port city of Busan.
The countries called it a diplomatic display of “the determination of the South Korea-US alliance for peace and stability in the Korean peninsula,” even as analysts have said it sent a clear message about Kim’s rising nuclear ambitions. Jong-un. .
When Vice Admiral Michael Donnelly, who served as commander of the assault group, was asked what message the joint military exercise would give to Pyongyang, he replied: “We leave the messages to diplomats.”
Donnelly added that the visit was intended to build Allied relations and strengthen interoperability between the two navies and pointed out that the joint exercise will ensure that the Allies can respond to all threats.
“It’s an opportunity for us to practice tactics and operations,” said the senior US naval officer.
The arrival of the main US aircraft carrier in Busan is seen as the most significant commitment to date under a diplomatic policy between the two countries to allow more US “strategic assets” to operate in the area to deter North Korea.
A long line of crew members was seen after the ship docked in port doing Covid tests before being sent into town on buses.
Neither Washington nor Seoul shared details about the upcoming joint exercises, but said the carrier will remain in port for “several days”.
One of the crew members aboard the aircraft carrier said they were looking for a break but were aware of the constant presence of geopolitical tensions between the US and South Korea’s northern neighbor.
“You can never really forget what we’re all here for,” said the crew member.
These are some of the largest military exercises conducted between the two countries since 2017 and the first with a US aircraft carrier since 2018.
The pandemic had scaled back diplomatic exercises between the US and South Korea and was further delayed as joint diplomatic efforts focused on the denuclearization of North Korea.
This is also the first exercise after new South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol took office earlier this year.
Military analysts have called the joint exercises a useful political signal in the geopolitical realm as it reassures Seoul and trains the country’s armed forces in the face of the threat of missiles from North Korea.
But it doesn’t deter North Korea much, says Mason Richey, a professor at the Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in Seoul.
“A visit from a carrier group certainly doesn’t do much – in fact it probably does the opposite – to discourage Pyongyang from developing more nuclear weapons and delivery systems, as well as conventional capabilities,” said Mr Richey.
However, it does help underline Mr Yoon’s image as a leader with whom allies see tighter military coordination and interoperability as a counterpart to North Korea, the professor added.
US officials last week had called the airline’s visit a “clear demonstration” of its commitment to deploy and exercise strategic assets to deter North Korea and increase regional security.
The US Navy had made no mention of North Korea when announcing the visit, calling it a “regularly scheduled port visit.”
It added that US crew members are visiting Busan to volunteer at orphanages and explore the K-pop music scene.