Updated: Nov 8, 2018
One of the major concessions made by the US administration during the US-DPRK summit in Singapore earlier this year was the postponing of joint military exercises, referred to as 'wargames' by the Pyongyang government. These drills are often seen as provocations and it was hoped that cancelling planned exercises would create an atmosphere of trust between the two sides which would result in more successful negotiations. So is the restarting of these joint drills an admonition of failure from the United States?
Probably not, at the time of writing there is still a meeting scheduled between Mike Pompeo and Kim Yong Chol, Deputy chairman of the Worker's Party of Korea, in New York in the coming days. However there is potential that this recent development could obstruct the planned meeting if Pyongyang sees the move as an active provocation. Pompeo himself has stated that he is not worried by statements and rhetoric from DPRK media as he trusts in the positions of his counterparts in the DPRK. This despite analysts warning that ignoring such statements could land Washington in deeper trouble since recent articles calling for relaxed sanctions and threatening continued nuclear development are likely a sign that Pyongyang is not happy with either the stalled negotiations or the lack of concession from the US side.
So what is the logic behind restarting these military exercises? It's difficult to say. However no permanent decision was made at the Singapore summit to cancel all future military drills, so potentially these drills were always planned to go ahead. It does however, seem more likely that the recent degradation of US-DPRK relations have pushed Washington to demonstrate a slightly harder line against Pyongyang. This is potentially a rebuttal to statements made in recent days by a foreign ministry official via the KCNA referring to the US sanctions regime as "incompatible" with "the improvement of relations" and deriding US efforts to force denuclearisation as a "foolish idea".
These developments reinforce the stark contrast between inter-korean relations and US-DPRK relations. As relations between Pyongyang and Seoul begin to blossom, negotiations over the nuclear issue have stalled and many analysts have speculated that the North has no real intention to denuclearise, at least not in the near future. The rift between Washington and Seoul has been widening slowly in recent weeks and months. Whether the DPRK administration will take the return of joint drills as aggression from both parties, or just Washington, could be an insight into whether or not North Korea is actively attempting to divide the allies and continue to forge a peace regime with Seoul whilst leaving nuclear talks to die a slow death as progress continues to be noticeably lacking.