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).