Team Spirit: A Case Study on the Value of Military Exercises as a Show of Force in the Aftermath of Combat Operations

By Farrell, John F. | Air & Space Power Journal, Fall 2009 | Go to article overview

Team Spirit: A Case Study on the Value of Military Exercises as a Show of Force in the Aftermath of Combat Operations


Farrell, John F., Air & Space Power Journal


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, Joint Operations, 17 September 2006

Although an armistice ending com- bat operations was signed on 27 July 1953, no formal peace treaty ever concluded the Korean War. Conse- quently, the Democratic People's Repub- lic of Korea (DPRK) technically has re- mained 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 ROKs defense. …

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