Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Korea, U.S. to hold second OPCON meeting this week

Again, if anyone wants to talk about OPCON transfer I think they should first have to be able to explain the ROK and US command relationships in Korea.  I will bet the number of press and pundits who can do so can be counted on one hand (go ahead and prove me wrong - I will happily administer a test to any member of the press or pundit corps).

But on a less sarcastic note what the action officers need to come up with in time for the Security Consultative Meeting (SCM) is an understandable way to explain how both nations exercise co-equal operational control of the ROK/US Combined Forces Command  (ROK/US CFC) through the Military Committee.

The SCM needs to come clean with the ROK and US press, pundits, politicians, and people.  The whole OPCON transfer issue was a misnomer.  There is no provision or process to "transfer wartime OPCON" to the ROK.  This is a much different situation than in 1994 when "peacetime OPCON" was "returned" to the ROK.  In actuality what happened in 1994 was a normalization of the military relationship of ROK forces to the ROK/US CFC to equal the same relationship as US forces.  It was normalized in this way.  The ROK JCS and US Forces Korea each are "force providers" to the ROK/US CFC, meaning when directed by their nation's command authorities they will provide forces to the ROK/US CFC and the ROK/US CFC will exercise operational control of those forces to accomplish the mission.  This only happens when designated.  Prior to 1994 ROK forces were under the OPCON of theROK/US CFC.   However, in terms of wartime OPCON the only way that can be directly exercised by the ROK is to dis-establish the ROK/US CFC and have the ROK and US establish separate war fighting commands which will undo sixty plus years of perfecting combined operations capabilities to address very real threats from the north (both war and collapse).

What the SCM should consider announcing is that the decision to keep the ROK/US CFC intact in critically important to the strategic interests of both nations to ensure they have the most capable war fighting command to ensure deterrence, defense, the ability to defeat the nKPA if attacked as well as to conduct the full spectrum of operations necessary to deal with regime collapse.  The SCM should admit that the OPCON transfer issue was a mistake built upon a shaky foundation during a period of mutual disdain and distrust by both nations (rising anti-American sentiment in the ROK and the desire by the US SECDEF to divert US forces from Korean responsibilities to support the Global War on Terrorism).  These conditions no longer exist and thus the initial "rationale" (or assumptions perhaps) for OPCON transfer are no longer valid.  Therefore discussion about alliance military capabilities should be focused on enhancing the combined capabilities to more effectively accomplish the missions directed by the Military Committee.

Second, the SCM should announce that USFK and 8th US Army will relocate to Pyongtaek (Camp Humphreys) when facilities construction is complete in accordance with the Land Partnership Plan.  However, the ROK/US CFC will remain in Seoul.

Third, when USFK and 8th Army relocate, Yongsan Army Garrison will be disestablished and the  garrison will be turned over to the ROK military control.  (It would be good for the ROK to be able to rename the garrison) The small number of US members of the ROK/US CFC will remain in Seoul and live as tenants on the renamed ROK military installation.

The perhaps after October the ROK/US CFC can remove the distraction of the past 11 years and get on with the important business of focusing on accomplishing the alliance objectives.   The bottom line; however, for the ROK and US is that both nations always retain command of their forces, both nations determine when they want to provide their forces to the ROK/US CFC and the ROK/US CFC takes its strategic direction and guidance from the Military Committee which is made up of members from both nations' National Command and Military Authorities.  And the real bottom line is that the US DOES NOT have overall operational control of ROK forces just as  the ROK does not have overall operational control of  US forces.

Korea, U.S. to hold second OPCON meeting this week

Published : 2014-08-05 20:50
Updated : 2014-08-05 20:50
South Korea and the United States will hold a second round of talks this week on delaying the planned transfer of the wartime operational control of South Korean troops from Washington to Seoul, the Pentagon said Monday.

In April, South Korean President Park Geun-hye and U.S. President Barack Obama decided that the timeline for the transition of OPCON, currently slated for 2015, can be reconsidered. They agreed to continue to work to determine the “appropriate timing and conditions for the transition of OPCON.”

Under the agreement, the two sides held their first “Executive Session” on the issue between South Korea’s Deputy Defense Minister Yoo Jeh-Seung and U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for East Asia David Helvey on June 16-17 in Seoul.

A second round of talks will be held in Washington on Wednesday and Thursday, the Pentagon said.

“The ROK Ministry of National Defense and U.S. Department of Defense will continue consultations on this issue in the lead-up to and in preparation for this year’s Security Consultative Meeting in October,” the Pentagon said, referring to the annual defense ministers’ talks between the two countries.

South Korea handed over control of its forces to the U.S. during the 1950-53 Korean War to defend against invading troops from North Korea. Peacetime control of its forces was returned in 1994, and South Korea is currently scheduled to get back OPCON in December 2015.

But last year, Seoul asked for a delay in the OPCON transfer after North Korea conducted its third nuclear test, saying the security situation on the peninsula was markedly different from when the transfer was agreed upon a few years ago.

The two countries are basically in agreement on putting off the transfer, and the defense ministers’ meeting set for October is expected to determine by how much it should be pushed back. (Yonhap)

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