Political concerns dominate a show of force operation, and as such, military forces often are under significant legal and political constraints. The military force coordinates its operations with the country teams affected. A show of force can involve a wide range of military forces including joint US military or multinational forces. Additionally, a show of force may include or transition to joint or multinational exercises.
--Joint Publication 3-0,JointOperations, 17 September 2006
Although an armistice ending combat operations was signed on 27 July 1953, no formal peace treaty ever concluded the Korean War. Consequently, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) technically has remained at war with the Republic of Korea (ROK) and the United States for well over half a century. Skirmishes between the two sides have erupted periodically, but no major combat has taken place since the cease-fire.
This uneasy peace that has settled over the land of the morning calm has made dealing with the North Korean hermit kingdom a challenge for US and ROK political and military leaders. The adversaries have often utilized displays of power to communicate messages to each other, conducting military exercises to demonstrate political and military resolve.
Commanders have long valued the efficacy of exercises. In World War II, Army leaders benefited from the Louisiana maneuvers. REFORGER exercises during the Cold War ensured the capability of US forces to deploy to Europe. Modern exercises at the national and joint readiness training centers, as well as the simulated air wars of the Air Warrior and Flag exercises, have proven invaluable in preparing forces for conflict. Short of actual combat, realistic training exercises are considered the best vehicles to prepare armed forces for war.
Military exercises, however, can have value beyond the obvious benefit of readying troops for battle. Just as Carl von Clausewitz postulated that opponents wage war for political purposes, so can the preparation for war have value in the political realm. Such was the case with Team Spirit, an annual combined exercise held in the ROK. Born during a time of political controversy in the 1970s, this exercise, directed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, took on a life of its own as it became an effective tool for the United States when negotiating with both South and North Korea. Now dormant, Team Spirit nevertheless serves to further US and ROK political aims on the Korean peninsula, especially in ensuring that North Korea lives up to its nuclear treaty obligations. Skillfully employed, military exercises such as Team Spirit can serve as a show of force to extract concessions from adversaries without having to resort to direct military intervention.
Evolution of Team Spirit
The United States and ROK originally designed Team Spirit with both military and political objectives, agreeing during the annual Security Consultative Meeting in 1975 to consolidate several smaller exercises conducted since 1969 into a comprehensive field-maneuver exercise held each spring. (1) During the first exercise, held in 1976, America sought to demonstrate to North Korea its commitment to the ROK, as well as give troops realistic training in combined military operations.
However, Team Spirit soon generated more profound political ramifications than originally envisioned. Though not created with 1976's election of Jimmy Carter in mind, the exercise proved somewhat serendipitous to the new American president's administration. Since January 1975, Carter had been promising that if elected he would withdraw the nearly 40,000 American troops from South Korea. After his inauguration in early 1977, he seemed committed to carrying out his campaign pledge. (2) Holding a major military exercise annually in the face of proposed troop withdrawals would serve to convince the South and North Koreans that America remained committed to the ROK's defense. Michael Armacost, a member of Carter's National Security Council, stated in a classified memorandum of 1977 that Team Spirit "is a large exercise, but is consistent with the guidance that exercises in Korea shall be larger, more frequent and more visible during our ground troop withdrawals" (emphasis in original). (3) To enhance that visibility, over 300 reporters were invited to cover Team Spirit 78, the first time the media had access to the exercise. Deputy Secretary of Defense Charles W. Duncan referred to Team Spirit 78 as "a clear demonstration of our ability to rapidly augment forces in Korea." (4) Resistance to Carter's policy soon forced him to postpone and eventually reverse his decision to withdraw American forces, but Team Spirit continued to grow in numbers and significance.
Almost immediately, it became US Pacific Command's largest exercise, with 107,000 ROK and US personnel participating in 1978. (5) That number increased to 168,000 for Team Spirit 79. (6) Total participation dropped to 145,000 in 1980 due to funding and "real-world activities," but it climbed to 156,700 the next year. (7) Team Spirit 82 saw an increase to over 167,000 participants, and the exercise continued to expand, as Team Spirit 83 boasted 192,000 personnel. (8) With over 200,000 personnel participating in 1986, 1988, and 1989, Team Spirit became the free world's largest military exercise until the 1990s, when the size and scope of the exercise began to draw down. (9) In 1991 Operation Desert Storm forced a significant scaling down, restricting Team Spirit to largely in-country forces. (10) When it resumed in 1993 after a cancellation the previous year, only 19,000 personnel reinforced US and Korean forces, for a total participation of 120,000 troops. (11) The 1993 exercise marked the last year Team Spirit was held.
North Korean Reaction to Team Spirit
Judging by the reaction of the North Koreans, one could argue that Team Spirit represented a potent show of force because DPRK resistance to it grew as the exercise expanded. Kim Il Sung, the president of North Korea, believed that Carter's promise to withdraw US forces from South Korea was genuine and presented an opportunity for rapprochement between North Korea and the United States. However, Kim soon grew increasingly frustrated at Carter's delay in the withdrawal, seeing the initiation and expansion of Team Spirit as a further revision of the American president's stated policy. Although no evidence of a direct connection exists, the first Team Spirit may have contributed to the tension that resulted in the slaying of two American officers by North Korean guards at Panmunjom on 18 August 1976. (12) Otherwise, the DPRK's annual protests to the exercise were limited to propaganda statements from state-run media. (13) …