Wednesday, November 6, 2013

South Korea: Responding to the North Korean threat

Probably the single most concise but comprehensive article on the military situation in South Korea and in particular ROK military develops and the OPCON transfer issue.  As a side note, MG Lee (in the photo below) and I were planners together on the CFC staff back in the 1990's.  The PDF of this article can be downloaded from the web site. This is an important read.

South Korea: Responding to the North Korean threat
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, left, exchanges greetings with South Korean army Maj. Gen. Lee Seo-young, a South Korean defense attaché, during a gala hosted by South Korean President Park Geun-hye commemorating the 60th anniversary of the US-South Korean alliance May 7, 2013, at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC.

Article Highlights

  • S. Korean defense is unevenly prepared for the N. Korean threat.
  • Combined ROK-US wartime operating force must continue to exist to ensure readiness.
  • All other issues will be ancillary for Seoul as long as there is a DPRK.

South Korea is in a unique position. It is an economic powerhouse and a thriving democracy that faces the most ­ominous and imminent threat on its borders of any democracy in the world. Moreover, this is a threat that continues to evolve, with increasing missile, cyber, special operations, and nuclear capabilities and a new leader who shows no signs that he will be any less ruthless or belligerent than his father. To meet this threat, Seoul has undertaken a number of efforts to better deter and defend against North Korean capabilities and provocations, including increasing the defense budget, upping training with US forces, creating new command elements, and establishing plans for preemptive strikes against imminent North Korean missile launches. However, in part because of administration changes in Seoul, the South Korean effort has been uneven. And decisions remain to be made in the areas of missile defense, tactical fighter aircraft, and command-and-control arrangements that will be significant for not only South Korea but all states that have an interest in Northeast Asia’s peace and stability.
Key points in this Outlook:
  • South Korea faces a clear, present, and evolving threat from North Korea, with Kim Jong-un showing no indication of moving away from his father’s violent and corrupt policies.
  • South Korea’s response to the North Korean threat has been uneven, with increased capabilities in some areas but less than what is needed in others.
  • A key issue facing the ROK-US alliance is command and control of allied forces during wartime on the Korean Peninsula. A combined operating force must continue to exist to ensure full readiness and capability.

This is the seventh National Security Outlook in a series about the defense capabilities of America’s allies and security partners.[1] 

When analyzing the readiness, capabilities, and future initiatives of the Republic of Korea’s (ROK’s) military, one must take into account the unique geopolitical position that the ROK government finds itself in. There is no ambiguous set of threats for South Korea. Rather, the largest and most dangerous threat to the stability and security of the Korean Peninsula is obvious: the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea (DPRK).
It is for this threat that policymakers in Seoul must ensure their military is ready. Providing an adequate defense against this threat is the cornerstone of the ROK–US alliance and the most important foreign policy issue between these two allies. As survival of the nation-state is the number-one priority for any national leader, all other issues for Seoul will be ancillary as long as there is a DPRK.
Recognizing that the threatening behavior of its belligerent neighbor to the north is the key military issue for the ROK, it is important to analyze that threat to determine what the priorities of the South Korean military will be and how the threat will influence planning for the ROK–US alliance. Since 2010, North Korea has conducted two violent military provocations: one with a submarine that sank a ROK naval ship and one that involved an artillery barrage against a South Korean island that killed both military and civilian personnel.[2] North Korea also conducted yet another nuclear test this past February.[3] 
In addition, the DPRK has shown with a test launch conducted in mid-December last year that it is now capable (or close to it) of building a missile that can hit Alaska, Hawaii, or perhaps even the west coast of the United States.[4] Pyongyang also has the capability of targeting all of South Korea and most of Japan with its ballistic missiles.[5] 
"All other issues for Seoul will be ancillary as long as there is a DPRK."North Korea has also continued to advance the capabilities and numbers of its armored forces, long-range artillery forces, and special operations forces.[6] And, finally, Kim Jong-un has shown no indication that he has any intentions except to carry on the violent and corrupt policies of his father Kim Jong-il. This means, of course, that South Korea and the ROK–US alliance must continue to prepare for the multifaceted North Korean threat for the foreseeable future.
Initiatives against the North Korean Threat
Despite calls by the Roh Moo-hyun administration (2003–08) for a “balancer policy”—a policy that moved South Korea away from its traditional security ties with the United States to a more neutral or balancing role between the United States, Japan, and the old communist bloc of China, Russia, and North Korea—the fact remains that the primary issue for which Seoul must build its military capabilities and plan its contingencies is North Korea.[7] This process has been exacerbated by the fact that the threat the DPRK presents has evolved and become even more complicated in recent years.
Following the two violent provocations in 2010 already described, it became obvious that the South Korean government and military needed to take steps to counter future provocations from North Korea. As noted North Korean specialist Robert M. Collins has stated, “Since the end of the Korean Conflict in 1953, the ROK–US alliance has done a very good job of deterring against a war initiated by North Korea. The alliance has not done a good job of deterring North Korean provocations.”[8] Thus, the planning, policies, and procedures South Koreans initiated (and coordinated with their key ally in Washington) are very timely and needed now more than ever.
During April 2013, it was reported that the United States and South Korea had finalized a plan to respond more forcefully and appropriately to North Korean provocations.[9] This new “counterprovocation” plan will ensure that there is a speedy “response in kind” that still prevents escalation to all-out war. The existence of the plan was also made public in part, it seems, because Seoul and Washington wanted to both warn the North Koreans and reassure the South Korean populace.
In an earlier and equally important move, the South Korean military established a separate Northwest Islands Command. The establishment of the new command and the appointment of a commander with the autonomy to respond with necessary force in a timely manner under more liberal rules of engagement empower the South Korean military to respond more effectively to violent provocations the North initiates in the Northern Limit Line (NLL) area.[10]
Formally established in June 2011, the command was first headed by Lt. Gen. Yoo Nak-jun, the commandant of the ROK Marine Corps, with a Marine major general as deputy commander and a staff that includes colonels from each of the ROK military services. Built around a division-sized joint unit, with the key contingents being the ROK Marine Sixth Brigade and the Yeonpyeong Defense battalion, the new command now has the ability to respond to North Korean attacks more effectively and rapidly. As such, ROK forces are now better positioned to deter and defend against North Korean provocations.[11]
The attacks in 2010 and the rhetoric from North Korea since have had the opposite effect of what Pyongyang likely wanted. If anything, DPRK behavior has strengthened South Korea’s resolve to strike back against North Korean aggression.[12] The South Korean Navy is now on a heightened state of readiness in the NLL area—the demarcation line in the West (Yellow) Sea between the DPRK and ROK—and has been equipped with the best maritime equipment that the government can provide.[13]
(Continued at the link below)

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