SEOUL, South Korea, Dec. 27 (UPI) -- South Korea and the United States must not scale back on joint military drills as a means to appease North Korea, according to former U.S. commanders in Korea who spoke to the Voice of America on Tuesday.
This comes amid uncertainty on whether the allied forces will put off an annual military drill to avoid an overlap with the Pyeongchang Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games from February to March.
Burwell B. Bell, a retired four star U.S. army general, said postponing the drill is a "legitimate issue" as "it's not good to be conducting military exercises when bringing in hundreds, even thousands of athletes from over a hundred countries around the world."
However, he said the exercises must be conducted to their "full requirements" immediately following the Games.
While the drills may be rescheduled to accommodate practical concerns surrounding the Olympics, Bell said that military readiness should not be used as a diplomatic tool to bargain with North Korea.
"My strongest recommendation has always been if either side ever chooses to use military readiness as a bargaining chip that that would be a time when the United States should turn away from this alliance because it is too dangerous for our forces and it also shows a lack of confidence by the South Koreans," he said.
Bell led the United Nations Command, the Combined Forces Command and U.S. Forces Korea from 2006 to 2008.
General James Thurman who commanded the forces from 2011 to 2013, agreed that the joint war games are nonnegotiable and remain a crucial means of maintaining military readiness.
"We must be careful appeasing North Korea. It has never worked and I do not think cutting deals with them will be effective.The alliance must remain strong and vigilant," he said.
The annual war games, called Key Resolve and Foal Eagle, usually begin in late February or early March.
North Korea has long regarded the drills as a rehearsal for invasion and an excuse to launch provocations.