“This is unusual,” said a spokesman for South Korea’s Ministry of Defense. “Outside of sending a few delegations to African countries, and pilots to Egypt during the Arab-Israeli War, North Korea has almost never held joint military exercises with any other country.”
During North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il’s recent trip to Russia, he reportedly asked Russia to participate in full-scale joint military exercises where North Korean and Russia forces repel an “invader.” The Russians are said to have turned him down flat.
“The Russians reminded Kim that North Korea was under UN sanctions,” South Korea’s Ministry of Defense said. “But they did offer to do a joint search and rescue exercise with North Korean forces centered on recovering a downed pilot.”
Since the late 1990s, Russia and Japan have held periodic military exercises together and from 2003, Japan, South Korea and Russia have periodically held trilateral search and rescue exercises.
Japan and South Korea will probably be watching this exercise with considerable interest. It will be revealing about North Korean capabilities.
Perhaps it is also a small nudge towards peace in the region. While sending a cruiser is not the moral equivalent of ping pong diplomacy, now that Russia is training with North and the South Korean navies it might not be inconceivable that someday North Korea and South Korea’s navies will participate together in a similar exercise.