Saturday, July 20, 2013

S. Korea asks US to reconsider transfer of wartime troop control

I think we should keep in mind that we remain committed to the ROK/US Alliance and the defense of the ROK because it is in our strategic interest to do so.  I think it is even more in our interests now that at any time in the history of the Alliance given the ROK's place in the world and global economic importance and the geo-political situation in Northeast Asia.  The defense of the ROK is not some charitable act on the part of the US.  The ROK has always contributed more in blood to its defense both during the war and since, it has also spilled blood outside the ROK in support of mutual ROK and US interests: Vietnam and Central and Southwest Asia.  I think we have to get past the statements of the former Secretary of Defense:
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said during an October 2006 visit that it was “time for the Republic of Korea to assume a larger role and responsibility” for its defense.
The ROK also spends significant treasure on its defense both through its own military forces (which will always form the bulk of the ground forces that will defend the ROK and ensure victory in a war with the north) and through burden sharing which provides a  share of stationing costs for US forces.

But we should not be approaching this issue from the position of relative contributions or the operational control issue (as I have said the ROK has operational control of ROK and US ground forces, special operations forces, and psychological operations forces in wartime).  

The OPCON transfer or transition issue really is only accomplished one way:  the dissolution of the Combined Forces Command.  Dissolve that and we end up with two independent national warfighting commands.  But we need to ask what is the best way to organize and employ the ROK/US Alliance military instrument of power?  I would submit that it is ensuring a combined warfighting command and as I have said I fully support a Korean General being in command of a Combined Theater Command (CTC)  that has been proposed.  If we could more effectively explain the command structure (which I too have a hard time doing in sound bites or an elevator speech) in times of the dual command exercised by both National Command and Military Authorities through the Military Committee we would be able to recognize that there is no OPCON issue with a combined command for either the ROK or US whether there is a US or Korean General in command.  We really need to look at the Alliance from the perspective that at this point in history we have a mature partnership and no longer the big brother, little brother relationship. We should not through away the hard work we have done to develop an effective combined command (especially since its establishment in 1978).  We need to continue to evolve without throwing away the foundation that has been established and we can do that  through a Combined Theater Command with a Korean Commander and a US deputy.

I am not sure what is going on with the negotiations or why the ROKG and Minister of Defense are apparently making statements about delay of OPCON transition/transfer.  I am slightly optimistic that OPCON transfer has just become the shorthand way to discuss the issue and that they are still considering the CTC concept.  If the ROKG is really proposing a delay in OPCON transfer (meaning maintaining the status quo with the Combined Forces Command) I wonder if it is an indication of a possible subtle or unspoken suspicion if the two independent warfighting commands are established in accordance with the current 2015 timeline that beyond 2015 the US might further reduce its military commitment to the Alliance.  This fear could cause the strategic decision making rationale to be that to ensure the strength of the Alliance the ROKG would rather have the status quo and deal with the potential domestic political problems with charges of the ROK forfeiting its sovereignty (which is in fact a myth).  

If that is the case then the Alliance is not as strong as I believe and that the ROK harbors concerns about the long term commitment by the US and it must believe the only way to ensure such commitment is to maintain the CFC with a US General in command.  

It is really too bad if that is the case.  The US has an opportunity to demonstrate to the countries of the region (and the world) that it can be a true partner in an Alliance and not have to dominate it in every way if it goes forward with a CTC with a Korean General in charge and continues to commit US forces for the Alliance.  I think the benefits of such an evolution in the Alliance can impact the Asian Pivot/Rebalance and help to reinsure countries of our commitment as well as our respect for our Alliance partners.

The bottom line is we need to move to the next level in the ROK/US Alliance and that is to establish a Combined Theater Command with a Korean General in command.

S. Korea asks US to reconsider transfer of wartime troop control

By Erik Slavin
Stars and Stripes

Published: July 18, 2013

Obama: Plans on track to give South Korea operational control of militaries on peninsula
Former USFK commander speaks out against giving S. Korea operational control
U.S., S. Korea delay OPCON transfer until 2015
South Korea has asked the United States to re-examine an already-delayed plan to give Seoul wartime control of its military forces by 2015, South Korean defense ministry officials said.

While South Korea retains peacetime control of its approximately 639,000 servicemembers, control in the event of war currently transfers to a U.S. four-star general under the Combined Forces Command.

The transfer was originally planned for 2012 but was delayed three years ago.

The two sides will discuss the transfer date at an October meeting in Seoul, said a defense ministry spokesman who requested anonymity, which is common practice in South Korea.

“The significance of variables in North Korea’s nuclear program has changed,” the ministry spokesman said.

The spokesman said South Korea isn’t 100 percent committed to a delay but wants the U.S. to consider it as the regional security situation develops during the rest of the year.

Another defense ministry official confirmed that the proposal had been made and said that if control transfer is postponed, no backup date has been agreed upon.

South Korean media outlets have reported that the delay proposal was made during a June multinational meeting of defense chiefs in Singapore.

At a May joint news conference in Seoul with South Korean President Park Geun-hye, U.S. President Barack Obama said the 2015 operational control transfer date remained on course.

South Korea will continue to plan for a 2015 transfer date for the time being, ministry officials said.

Earlier this year, Gen. B.B. Bell, who retired in 2008 as commander of U.S. Forces Korea, called on the United States to let South Korea “permanently postpone” the transfer.

Bell, who strongly advocated the transfer as commander, said North Korea’s nuclear development put the South at a “significant disadvantage on any future battlefield, or in any future negotiations.”

Operational control became a prominent issue in 2006 under President Roh Moo-hyun, who framed the transfer as a national sovereignty issue. However, when the Pentagon responded that they would go along with a transfer as soon as 2009, opposition conservatives opposed the move and government officials balked.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said during an October 2006 visit that it was “time for the Republic of Korea to assume a larger role and responsibility” for its defense.
(Continued at the link below)

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