Story highlights

Major military exercises by the US and South Korea are held twice a year

North Korea considers the war games a show of aggression towards it

Hong Kong CNN  — 

To critics, they’re a needless provocation. To advocates, an essential way to get troops combat ready.

The US and South Korean militaries begin war games next week at a time of unprecedented tensions with North Korea. The exercises are held twice yearly, typically incurring the wrath of Pyongyang, which views them as a show of aggression.

Kim Jong Un appeared to reference the joint drills Tuesday, saying he would “watch” US actions “a little more” before making a decision whether to launch missiles into the waters around Guam – a plan that was outlined last week as US and North Korea traded increasingly hostile rhetoric.

Benjamin Habib, a Korea expert at Australia’s La Trobe University, said opinions about military drills fall into two broad camps.

Those who fear canceling drills could “invite further escalations” from Kim Jong Un’s regime, and those who think “drills are an unnecessary provocation” and suspending them or calling them off would significantly lower tensions.

The latter is an approach that China has called for as a first step to defusing the crisis.

The drills themselves often mimic real-life combat situations – amphibious landings, intense live-fire exercises, counter-terrorism drills and simulated or tabletop battle plans.