GNP mulls change in wartime control shift
South Korea’s ruling Grand National Party has asked the government to “reconsider” the transfer of wartime operational control of its forces from the United States to South Korea in 2012.
The topic was broached during a closed-door meeting of the ruling party, attended by Prime Minister Han Seung-soo and senior GNP officials. According to party spokeswoman Cho Yoon-sun, party members noted the increased threat to security on the Korean Peninsula in the aftermath of North Korea’s second nuclear test.
“The party officials said security on the peninsula has never been more seriously threatened,” Cho said. “At a time when there’s a real possibility of a North Korean nuclear attack, we feel there’s a need to reconsider the transfer of wartime [command] control. We’ve asked the government to review the necessity of placing this matter on the agenda at the Korea-U.S. summit in June.”
The GNP’s announcement was made before North Korea threatened a military attack in response to Seoul’s joining the Proliferation Security Initiative, which aims to curb trafficking of weapons of mass destruction and related materials. The North also said it was no longer bound by the 1953 armistice that ended the Korean War.
The agreement on the transfer of wartime control of South Korean troops was reached in February 2007. Seoul already has peacetime control. As part of the agreement, the Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command will no longer exist.
The late President Roh Moo-hyun was the major driving force behind the agreement. From the beginning of his term, Roh said he wanted South Korea to assume a more active role in national defense. The agreement at the time was met with strong opposition from the Grand National Party and a group of retired military generals.
Critics charged that the transfer would lead to huge increases in the defense budget and that South Korea’s defense capabilities would actually make the country less safe.
The previous administration devised a project called “Defense Reform 2020,” which calls for modernization of South Korean weapons systems and for an efficient but smaller military. The project was recently revised to delay cutting the size of the force.
The ruling party also stressed the importance of the U.S. nuclear umbrella over the South.
According to Cho, party chairman Park Hee-tae said, “It’s time for South Korea to be in close contact with the United States to discuss specifics of the U.S. pledge for a nuclear umbrella.”
Cho also noted that a few party representatives stressed that the South should assume active control of the situation so as “not to be dragged along” by North Korea and that Seoul should introduce “a comprehensive doctrine” on North Korea.
The government and the party also agreed to strengthen its defense of the west coast and increase reconnaissance and precision strike capabilities in preparation for possible North Korean provocations.
Hours after their meeting, North Korea said it could no longer guarantee the safety of South Korean vessels off the west coast of the peninsula.
By Yoo Jee-ho [firstname.lastname@example.org]