Monday, April 28, 2014

Obama's Pledge On US-S. Korea War-Time Command Responds To N. Korea Threats Of 4th Nuke Test

Donald Kirk is one of the only (if not the only) journalist to take the time to try to explain the OPCON transfer issue.

There is one error by Mr. Kirk which Dr. Bechtol works hard to correct in his statements:

Obama went along with South Korean pleas not to do away with the Combined Forces Command that puts South Korean forces under U.S. control in case of war.

ROK forces are not under US control in case of war.  Should the ROK decide to provide forces to the ROK/US Combined Forces Command (CFC) (and note that the US must make the same decision and of course either nation can withdraw their forces at any time) in time of war, they retain co-equal operational control of their forces through the Military Committee to the exact same degree that the US maintains operational control over US forces provided to the ROK/US CFC.

Bechtol strongly disputes the notion that the CFC would place a U.S. general in command of South Korean troops. Rather, he tells me, “In wartime the U.S. general is in control or all troops” – but “not command.” Indeed, he says, “The U.S. commander of CFC is no more in command” of South Korean troops “than the NATO commander is in command of UK troops or Dutch troops.”

This is most likely what will probably be announced after the ROK/US joint task force established last October at the Security Consultative Meetings to make a recommendation on the OPCON transfer issue reports out this summer or fall:

“Any other system would be a substitute that would be unlikely to be as streamlined, transparent and efficient,” he writes in an email to me. He predicts, after military leaders get down to specific talks on the CFC, that “perhaps the two nations will now go to a ‘condition-based’ criteria” for doing away with CFC “rather than simply setting a date that everything will change.”

But the visit to the ROK/US CFC does send an important message on the OPCON transfer issue:

It was against this background that South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye and President Obama visited the command center for joint operations in what Yonhap described as “a symbolic move underscoring their unity in deterring North Korea.”
That sortie went virtually unnoticed by the flock of U.S. correspondents covering Obama’s Asian odyssey, but as Yonhap notes 
it was “the first time for the leaders of South Korea and the U.S. to make a joint visit” to CFC since its was set up 36 years ago. While there they were briefed on how prepared are North and South Korea to counter North Korean attack.
The bottom line is that the OPCON Transfer issue has long been misunderstood by journalists and pundits who take no time to understand military operations and strategy in general and the nature of the ROK/US Alliance and the combined command specifically.  The real issue is simply this:  How should the ROK and US organize their combined military forces to best achieve the alliance strategic objectives.  If the current plan for OPCON transfer occurs it will mean the dissolution of the ROK/US Combined Forces Command and the establishment of two separate war fighting commands with the ROK JCS being the supported command and the new US Korea Command as the supporting command.  But of course this violates one of the fundamental principles of war: unity of command (or in a combined sense "unity of control" since both countries maintain command of their forces as sovereign nations).

4/27/2014 @ 9:53AM 2,705 views
Donald KirkContributor

Obama's Pledge On US-S. Korea War-Time Command Responds To N. Korea Threats Of 4th Nuke Test

President Obama and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un look as if they’re squaring off for a serious fight at least to judge from their rhetoric during Obama’s visit to Korea.
One day Obama was saying “we will not hesitate to use our military might to defend our allies,” and the next day Kim was urging the army to “win one victory after another in the confrontation with the U.S. and creditably perform the mission as a shock force and standard-bearer.”
If the Second Korean War is not about to break out right away, both sides appear to be expecting the unexpected. While satellite imagery showed North Korea ready to conduct its fourth underground nuclear test, Obama went along with South Korean pleas not to do away with the Combined Forces Command that puts South Korean forces under U.S. control in case of war.
@War Memorial of KoreaWar Memorial of Korea (Wikipedia)
In a swing through East Asia that’s been long on symbolism and imagery but short on substantive achievement, Obama sought to fortify the U.S.-South Korean alliance by agreeing to “reconsideration” of the deadline at the end of next year for OPCON. That’s when South Korea was to take over full “operational control” of its own forces in the event of war.
It was only under intense pressure not only from the South Koreans but also from U.S. senior officers and analysts that Obama gave his Okay nearly a year after his last visit to Seoul in May of last year when he said OPCON would happen on schedule. The argument against OPCON now is that any move to weaken the alliance would send the wrong signals in view of mounting signs of North Korean belligerence.
Bruce Bechtol, author of a number of books on North Korea including “Defiant Failed State” and “Red Rogue,” has been among the more outspoken defenders of the need for the combined command under which U.S. and South Korean officers can coordinate closely with shared responsibilities.
Bechtol, who’s spent years as a military intelligence analyst specializing in the confrontation of forces on the Korean peninsula, calls the SFC “an iconic command and control system” far superior to whatever structure would emerge in its place. “Any other system would be a substitute that would be unlikely to be as streamlined, transparent and efficient,” he writes in an email to me. He predicts, after military leaders get down to specific talks on the CFC, that “perhaps the two nations will now go to a ‘condition-based’ criteria” for doing away with CFC “rather than simply setting a date that everything will change.”
Bechtol strongly disputes the notion that the CFC would place a U.S. general in command of South Korean troops. Rather, he tells me, “In wartime the U.S. general is in control or all troops” – but “not command.” Indeed, he says, “The U.S. commander of CFC is no more in command” of South Korean troops “than the NATO commander is in command of UK troops or Dutch troops.”
If the distinction between control and command appears somewhat vague, Bechtol notes that “even in the middle of a war” the South Koreans “can choose to pull their troops” from control of the commander” of the CFC “if they disagree with his decision.”
CFC “is as close as we get with a bilateral alliance,” he writes. “That is why it works so well” and “any retired general” in South Korea “will tell you that disestablishing CFC is a big mistake and a blow to the security of South Korea.”
(Continued at the link below)

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