When CanKor received a statement from the Korean People’s Army Panmunjom Mission protesting this year’s “Ulji Freedom Guardian joint military exercises for aggression” by “the U.S. imperialists and the south Korean warmongers,” I put it in our propaganda archives as one of those annual oddities.
Ulchi (South Korean spelling) Freedom Guardian is the new name (as of 2008) of the military exercise previously known as Ulchi-Focus Lens, a combined military exercise between South Korea and the United States. The exercise is the world’s largest computerized command and control implementation which mainly focuses on defending South Korea from a North Korean attack. Initiated in 1976, the exercize is conducted annually during August or September.
Each year, DPRK authorities launch vehement protests against this military maneuver, claiming that it is a precursor to invasion of the North. I actually found the title of the KPA statement surprisingly non-belligerent, even though the text is full of the familiar aggressive hyperbole we have come to expect from North Korean scribes. You may sample it yourself here: Korean People’s Army Panmunjom Mission clarifies its stand to not miss opportunity for Reunification.
More interesting for us was an email we received from the Pyongyang-based Korean Committee for Afro-Asian Solidarity, which made the following claim:
“What is more grave is that the military service personnel from the UK, Canada, France, Australia, Denmark, Norway and New Zealand are taking part in this military exercise, so this joint military exercises remind us of the Korean war that armed forces from 15 countries took part in 60 years ago.”
I checked with some of our Canadian Brain Trust members. Were the CAAS writers confusing the US-ROK exercizes with the RIMPAC exercizes? The “Rim of the Pacific” exercise, is the world’s largest international maritime warfare exercise. RIMPAC is held biennially during June and July of even-numbered years, out of Honolulu, Hawaii. The United States Department of Defense believes there are a number of critical scenarios that may require naval force-on-force engagements. These include the possibility of the People’s Republic of China invading Taiwan in the event of its declaration of independence, and North Korean aggression towards South Korea, the United States, and Japan. Australia, Canada, and the US have participated in every RIMPAC since they were initiated in 1971.
A more knowledgeable insider of the Canadian Forces (CF) confirmed to me that the CAAS was not just spouting propaganda. “There have been about 12 or 15 CF personnel in South Korea as part of the Ulchi Focus Lens–or whatever they call the big US/ROK exertcise these days–and their presence reflects a sudden awareness on the part of the CF that much of the future will originate out of Asia and that after being asleep at the switch for 15 or 20 years, they had better get on board.”
New Zealand Minister of Defence Jonathan Coleman explained his country’s participation as follows:
“Our participation in the exercises collectively known as Ulchi Freedom Guardian 2012 is consistent with our ongoing commitment to UNCMAC and to peace and security on the Korean Peninsula. A total of five NZDF officers will participate as Duty or Liaison Officers. This participation is part of a broad bilateral defence relationship, which includes a range of activities including ship visits, academic exchanges, annual defence talks and military exercises.”
Compared to more than 30,000 US troops and some 56,000 South Koreans taking part in Ulchi Freedom Guardian, a handful of Kiwis and Canucks don’t exactly constitute an invading force. Then again, in a war of nerves and propaganda, symbolism often counts more than the number of boots and bullets.