Tensions on the Korean Peninsula rise very predictably each year when the United States and South Korea conduct large-scale joint military exercises to prepare for a crisis. Tensions usually don't get as bad as they are now, as the U.S.-South Korea Foal Eagle maneuvers head toward their conclusion, but the war games never fail to bring a sharp response from North Korea.
Here's a look at the three major joint exercises:
This was one of the largest annual military maneuvers in the world. It was held from 1976 until 1993 and combined several smaller exercises to discourage North Korea from provocations and give South Korean and U.S. troops experience in training together to cope with invasion scenarios. Washington and Seoul said the maneuvers were defensive in nature, but they were from their outset a huge irritant to North Korea, which saw them as a preparation for an offensive war.
North Korean forces were put on "war footing" for the first time in 1983 in response to the exercises, and that became a yearly ritual. From the 1990s, offers to cancel Team Spirit were used to induce North Korea to join denuclearization talks. When North Korea agreed to dismantle its existing nuclear facilities in 1993, the exercises were canceled and have not been held since.
These exercises, which also began in the 1970s and have gone through several name changes, focus on computerized simulations to hone joint decision-making and planning, and improve command operations, military intelligence and logistics. More than 85,000 U.S. and South Korean troops participated when they were held last August.
North Korea bristled at those maneuvers, too. Last year, the Rodong Sinmun, the ruling party's newspaper, said "the Korean Peninsula is faced with the worst crisis ever" because of the drills. North Korea threatened to bolster its nuclear arsenal in response, along with claiming it was no longer bound by the armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War.
KEY RESOLVE/FOAL EAGLE
This series of maneuvers begins with command post exercises called Key Resolve, centering on computer simulations, then moves to the field. The field phase of the exercises, Foal Eagle, consists of distinct but interrelated maneuvers "spanning ground, air, naval, expeditionary, and special operations," according to the U.S. military. It says the war games are deterrent in nature. This year, nuclear-capable B-2 stealth bombers and F-22 stealth fighters joined the war games, and North Korea said that prompted much of its alarm and anger. Some experts in the U.S. were also surprised by the B-2 deployment.
North Korea has since issued a string of threats notable for both their violence and specificity, including intensified warnings of missile attacks on U.S. targets in the Pacific, the U.S. mainland and South Korea.