[VIEWPOINT]Slow down on transfer of control

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[VIEWPOINT]Slow down on transfer of control

The government is seeking to regain wartime operational control of its forces earlier than planned. President Roh Moo-hyun mentioned this at the commencement ceremony of the Korea Military Academy on March 2, for the second time this year. He said he would agree with the United States on a transfer plan and carry out the plan within this year. In late February, it was confirmed that the government was reviewing the creation of a new consultative organization for combined operations that would replace the present South Korea-United States Combined Forces Command. It supposed a case in which in times of emergency on the Korean Peninsula, Korean military forces would take over wartime operational control from the Combined Command and both the Korean and U.S. military would have separate command systems.
In October last year, the government officially asked the United States to discuss the transfer of wartime control in the Security Consultative Meeting, but a specific schedule was put off due to the United States’ opinion that it should be “prudent,” and the two countries agreed to “properly facilitate” consultation in the future. The U.S. opinion is that wartime control should be transferred to Korea only when the Korean Army is equipped with sufficient military capability to confront a threat from North Korea. This opinion was expressed and reiterated by former U.S.F.K. commander Gen. Leon J. LaPorte, who left his office in February. In short, it should be pointed out that considering the Korean army’s current ability and North Korea’s strategy toward South Korea and its military threat, it is too early for the transfer of wartime control and a tactless pursuit of the transfer would bring an immense adverse effect on national security.
The government put forth “self-reliant defense” as a justification for an early transfer of wartime operational control. But it should be noted that as it is under the joint command of the two countries, the present control of wartime operation does not go against self-reliant national defense. Speaking publicly as if South Korea is subject to the Combined Forces Command is incorrect propaganda. Although the chief commander is a U.S. Forces general and the vice commander is a Korean Army general, there is in fact a “joint military committee” co-chaired by the joint chiefs ― the Korean defense minister and the U.S. defense secretary ― and a “dual command system” under the joint command of the presidents of both countries. On the part of Korea, the country can take advantage of the combined forces system to build a perfect defense against North Korea. In the case of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, its member countries have entrusted the wartime operational control to the commander of the U.S. Army NATO.
In addition, when wartime control is transferred, it is feared that it will bring a fatally adverse effect to the Korea-United States alliance. When the “combined defense system” collapses, the United Nations Command will be unavoidably disintegrated and the need for stationing of U.S. forces in Korea will be greatly challenged. Particularly, “Operation Plan 5027,” a combined defense strategy for the joint operation of South Korean and U.S. forces against the aggression of North Korea, and a plan to deploy up to an additional 690,000 U.S. soldiers in an emergency are likely to be changed.
South Korea has in fact relied on the advanced war-fighting capability of the U.S. force stationed in Korea to defend from military threats from North Korea, such as nuclear weapons, bio-chemical weapons, short- to medium-range missiles and long-range artillery to the north of the demilitarized zone and surprise attack and rear line infiltration by its special warfare units. To replace this with our own military capability in the future will take a long time and the additional burden of astronomical defense costs will be inevitable. Moreover, the Korean army lacks the technological ability to manage the cutting-edge weaponry systems that the United States operates and has, until now, been provided with 100 percent of its strategic information and more than 70 percent of its tactical information by the United States.
Therefore, the transfer of wartime control and subsequent readjustment of the nature of the U.S. force in Korea will lead to fundamental change, risk and challenge in our preparations for national security. It is possible Korea will receive a fatal “security risk” in return for gaining “self-reliance” ― a mere slogan.
Nevertheless, what is the reason that the present administration wants to hasten the transfer of wartime control? Could it possibly be to establish a peace system on the Korean Peninsula, reduce both Koreas’ arms and enact a program connected to a roadmap for the “agreed-upon unification” with North Korea? Although the transfer of wartime control is a task to be achieved sometime, it should be postponed for the stability of the Korean Peninsula and our national security as we are not well enough equipped yet. The “national cooperation” North Korea advocates is a fiction and nothing but a trick to decrease cooperation between South Korea and the United States.
Now is the time to concentrate our national agenda on North Korea’s nuclear deterrence, improvement in human rights conditions and the prevention of criminal acts, while making efforts to consolidate national security by strengthening the bilateral alliance.

* The writer is the director of the Security Strategy Research Institute. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Hong Kwan-hee
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