Informal Institute for National Security Thinkers and Practitioners – News from the Associate Director, Security Studies Program
I hate to beat a dead horse but can’t anyone in the press acknowledge and explain the real issue here? OPCON Transfer is all about dissolving the ROK/US Combined Forces Command and establishing two separate war fighting commands. We should keep in mind the four major tasks the ROK/US Combined Forces Command must do:
1. Deter attack from north Korea and if deterrence fails fight and win.
2. Prepare for war and north Korean regime collapse.
3. Maintain a combined readiness posture to respond to north Korean provocations as well as deter and defend against war and deal with regime collapse.
4. Support the unification of Korea.
And then we should ask if it is better to accomplish these tasks with a combined warfighting command or two separate national commands? I would submit that the ROK military and perhaps even the ROK civilian leadership are very worried about the future sustained military commitment to the defense of the Peninsula given US fiscal constraints, force structure cuts, and the move to a rotational presence the combination of which sometime in the future will make the decision to reduce the military commitment to the ROK much easier (and maybe even inevitable). The bottom line question for the US is whether maintaining the alliance is in US strategic interests. If not precede full steam ahead on the current plan. If it is determined to be in the US interests then conduct the strategic analysis to determine the best way to meet ROK and US strategic objectives and support the 1953 ROK/US Mutual Defense Treaty (which by the way says nothing about OPCON of forces). From Article III:
“Separately and jointly, by self help and mutual aid, the Parties will maintain and develop appropriate means to deter armed attack and will take suitable measures in consultation and agreement to implement this Treaty and to further its purposes…” (emphasis added)
What are the appropriate means that should be developed? That is the question that must be answered. From the ROK perspective it is not by following the current course. What is it from the US perspective?
Handover Of U.S. Command of South Korean Troops Still Under Debate
http://www.washingtonpost.com/ world/national-security/ handover-of-us-command-of- south-korean-troops-still- under-debate/2013/09/29/ 25a73374-28fb-11e3-83fa- b82b8431dc92_story_1.html
By Craig Whitlock, E-mail the writer
SEOUL – Sixty years after the end of the Korean War, the United States and South Korea still can’t agree on who should take charge if another war breaks out with the communist neighbor to the north.
For years, Washington has been trying to persuade the South Korean military to take operational control of its own forces in wartime, ending a six-decade arrangement during which U.S. commanders have retained that authority over South Korean troops. Although supportive in principle, a succession of governments in Seoul has repeatedly delayed the command transfer, reinforcing doubts about whether the South Korean military is capable of operating without U.S. leadership.
Previous deals that would have transferred wartime command of South Korean troops to Seoul in 2009 and 2012 fell by the wayside. Now the latest timetable – to transfer control to the South Korean military by December 2015 – has become infected with doubt as South Korean leaders have expressed anxieties again about their ability to command their own troops in the face of threats from an increasingly unpredictable North Korea.
South Korean officials began a public campaign this summer for another delay beyond 2015 but haven’t specified a new date for a command transfer. U.S. officials have not agreed to any changes so far. Some have said they are becoming frustrated with South Korea’s reluctance to take charge of its own defense.
On Sunday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel arrived in Seoul for three days of talks. But he told reporters traveling with him that he doubted that the thorny issue could be resolved during his visit.
“We’re constantly re-evaluating each of our roles,” Hagel said. “That does not at all subtract from, or in any way weaken, our commitment.”
In a reminder of how a sudden outbreak of war remains a constant threat here, Hagel was scheduled Monday to tour the Demilitarized Zone, the 2.5-mile-wide buffer that divides North and South Korea and is the most heavily guarded border in the world.
There are 28,500 U.S. troops permanently stationed in South Korea. That’s a fraction of the size of the South Korean military, which has 640,000 personnel. The South Korean government, however, considers the U.S. military presence a crucial deterrent, and some South Korean officials worry that a lessening of the U.S. role could embolden North Korea.
North Korea’s recent hostile rhetoric and military brinkmanship have added to those concerns. In February, North Korea conducted a nuclear test, just two months after it tested a long-range ballistic missile that could potentially strike the western United States. Memories are also still fresh here of a March 2010 incident in which North Korea torpedoed a South Korean naval vessel, killing 46 sailors.
The question of who would take command of joint U.S.-South Korean forces during another Korean conflict is an unresolved hangover from the Cold War. South Korea has wielded command of its troops during peacetime since 1994 and has steadily upgraded its military capabilities. But the U.S. armed forces remain better equipped to deal with the threat of nuclear, ballistic missile or cyber attacks.
In May, South Korea first floated the possibility of keeping its forces under U.S. wartime command beyond 2015. Since then, Seoul has become more vocal.
In August, Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jim raised the issue with Hagel during a meeting in Brunei. Afterward, Kim told the South Korean parliament that there was “a consensus” in his government that sticking with the December 2015 deadline was no longer “appropriate,” according to the state-run Yonhap news agency. But he acknowledged that the Americans didn’t necessarily agree.
Hagel is scheduled to meet Monday with Kim and President Park Geun-hye. Although the Obama administration is eager for South Korea to take permanent command of its own forces, U.S. officials don’t want to leave the impression that handing over control might weaken the U.S. commitment to the region.
The Pentagon has said it has no plans to scale back its troop presence in Korea. U.S. forces on the peninsula would remain under American command.
Back in Washington, however, some members of Congress have grown tired of South Korea’s reluctance to take charge of its own defense, especially at a time of U.S. budget constraints.
“I believe it’s important that we see to it that the primary responsibility for defending South Korea during a time of war lies with South Korea,” Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said July 30 during a confirmation for the incoming commander of U.S. forces in Korea, Army Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti. “It is a sovereign nation, and sovereign nations should be responsible for their own national defense in time of war.”
During his confirmation hearing, Scaparrotti said he agreed with the December 2015 timetable and that he would “do everything possible to ensure that we stay on track.”
But he left some wiggle room. In written responses to the Senate panel, Scaparrotti said the transfer of wartime command would be “conditions driven” and had to be “executed in a manner that does not accept any unnecessary risk to the national security” of South Korea
David S. MaxwellAssociate DirectorCenter for Security Studies &Security Studies ProgramEdmund A. Walsh School of Foreign ServiceGeorgetown UniversityOffice: 202-687-3834Cell: 703-300-8263email: email@example.comAKO: firstname.lastname@example.orgAlt email: email@example.comSSP Web Site: css.georgetown.eduAssociate Director News Blog: http://maxoki161.blogspot.com/Global Security Studies Review: https://blogs.commons.georgetown.edu/globalsecuritystudiesreview/
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