Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Ex-USFK commander backs OPCON delay

I participated in this  panel yesterday with GEN Tilelli, Dr. Patrick Cronin, and Dr. Michael O'Hanlon.  Obviously GEN Tilelli's comments are the most news worthy.  Below the article are my talking points.  Needless to say I concurred with and reinforced GEN Tilelli's position on OPCON transfer (and provided some additional perspective.)

By Kang Seung-woo
Former Gen. John Tilelli
A former top U.S. military commander in Korea said Tuesday he supports a delay in the planned transfer of the wartime operational control (OPCON) here.

South Korea is scheduled to take over the OPCON in December 2015 from Washington, but the Park Geun-hye administration has asked the U.S. to review that plan given the continuing threats posed by North Korea.

“Realistically, the U.S. must take that request very seriously,” retired Gen. John Tilelli said in a roundtable discussion hosted by the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), a Washington-based think tank. Tilelli served as commander of the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) from 1996 to 1999.

The 72-year-old stressed that the timing of the OPCON transfer should be decided on based on the status of preparations for it and the state of relations with North Korea.

“OPCON transfer must be based on conditions rather than time. So we have to look at the conditions on the peninsula at large, the threat and the capabilities, and then determine when OPCON transfer is appropriate,” Tilelli said.

Along with the OPCON transfer, the decades-old Korean-U.S. Combined Forces Command (CFC) is supposed to separate U.S. and Korean command structures, alongside a new alternative body that will be headed by a Korean general.

But the former four-star general voiced objections to dissolving the CFC, saying it is one of the best alliance mechanisms in existence.

“In my view, the Combined Forces Command should remain exactly the way it is today, and as we look to the future, determine what is the necessity of changing the command structure at all,” he said.

He added the CFC is effective not only in terms of military strategy and operation, but also in promoting people-to-people exchanges between the troops and the families of the allies.

Tilelli has become the second former USFK commander to speak out against the planed OPCON transition, echoing comments made by Burwell Bell, who led USFK from 2006 to 2008.

In April, Bell sent a letter to the Ministry of National Defense and said that talks over the transition should be permanently postponed as long as the North is capable of developing nuclear weapons.

Ahead of the letter, Bell said, “the sooner, the better” in reference to the transition.

Meanwhile, Tilelli said that Korea should consider a split-buy of F-15s and F-35s in retendering its fighter jet program in order to boost its combat capability.

The Boeing product was voted down in September due to its lack of stealth function and the Lockheed Martin’s stealth fighter is seen as a contender to secure the 8.3 trillion won ($7.5 billion) deal.

“In a real sense, a mix of F-35s and F-15s is the right decision,” he said, stressing that payload is as important as low-observable technology to counter Pyongyang’s threats.

Talking Points CNAS November 19, 2013
David S. Maxwell

I would like to briefly make six points.

A.    OPCON Transfer
B.    Alliance Joint Vision End State
C.   north Korean Threats
D.   north Korean Strategy
E.    Kim Family Regime Internal Dynamics.
F.    Alliance Way Ahead

1.  We should understand that the so-called OPCON Transfer Plan was the result of emotional decision-making on the part of both our governments from events in 2002-2003.  It was NOT the result of sound strategic analysis.  OPCON transfer means that the ROK/US Combined Forces Command will be dissolved if the current plan is executed in 2015.

2.  The 2009 Alliance Joint Vision Statement that was reaffirmed by Presidents Park and Obama in May 2013 states that the alliance end state is the peaceful reunification of the Korean peninsula.  Of course north Korea will decide whether it is peaceful or not but the end state is clear: it will result in unification.  From a military perspective we must analyze our capabilities and strategies from the standpoint of how to best support achieving that end state with the military instrument of power.

3.  There are many threats on the Korean peninsula: from violent provocation to proliferation, from the range of asymmetric threats to include short and long range missiles and illicit activities, to the nuclear program and blackmail diplomacy to the two ultimate catastrophic challenges of war or regime collapse or possibly regime collapse AND war.  We need to defend against provocations.  We need to not succumb to blackmail diplomacy.  We must deter war and prepare for regime collapse.  In short there are four major tasks for the Alliance:

            A. Deter, Defend, and Maintain the Armistice.
            B. Prepare for War AND Regime Collapse.
            C.  Sustain the strength of the Alliance.
            D. Transform the Alliance.

4.  The north Korean strategy is clear:  survival of the Kim Family Regime is the vital national interest.  Blackmail diplomacy though provocations and the nuclear program is the key to gaining political and economic concessions.  The strategic aim is reunification of the peninsula under the rule of north Korea to ensure regime survival.  A critical element of the north’s strategy is to split the ROK/US Alliance and ultimately remove US forces from the Korean peninsula so that in its calculus it will have the balance of power to fight and win a war to reunify the Peninsula.  We should keep this in mind as we conduct the necessary strategic analysis of how to best organize ROK/US military forces.

5.  We do not have a good understanding of what is happening within the Kim Family Regime.  We know Kim Jong-un is consolidating power.  We do not know how effective his leadership really is.  We cannot be sure about his strategic decision making.  We can assume that he is following the playbook written by Kim Il-sung and updated by Kim Jong-il but we do not know how he is adapting it.   He seems to be making his mark with “Byungjin” the simultaneous nuclear and economic development to follow in his father’s footsteps of Military First Politics, and his grandfather’s establishment of Juche.  We can see that the contradiction of Byungjin can lead to friction, stress, and perhaps even regime collapse over time.  And unfortunately when faced with regime collapse Kim Jong-un’s only option may be to go to war.

6.  Given the complexity and uncertainty of the situation on the Korean peninsula what should we do?  The first priority is to maintain the strength of the ROK/US military Alliance.  This not only deters north Korea it also provides the foundation for President Parks’ policy of trustpolitik.  Second, we need to cease the discussion of OPCON Transfer and instead determine how to best organize our military forces to support all the alliance requirements from diplomatic support to deterrence to preparation for regime collapse to support of reunification of the Peninsula.  This strategic analysis should be objective and not based on emotion and should result in the optimal military organization which I would recommend as a ROK/US combined command with a ROK General Officer in command that still answers to the ROK/US Military Committee as the current ROK/US Combined Forces Command does.  Third, we need to continue to train our forces for war but also the Alliance needs to prepare for regime collapse and use all elements of national power to lay the foundation to mitigate the threats inherent in regime collapse.

In conclusion, the strength of the ROK/US Alliance is the vital component for success in dealing with north Korea.  We must transform our military forces to provide the most effective capabilities to support ROK and US strategic objectives.  We should discard the talk of OPCON Transfer and instead develop a new combined command that will ensure the Alliance is prepared for war and regime collapse and can support the achievement of a reunified Korea.

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