[EDITORIALS]Can we pay the piper?United States Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld officially notified the Korean government that the United States will transfer wartime command in 2009. In a letter to Defense Minister Yoon Kwang-ung, Mr. Rumsfeld also demanded that the two nations equally pay for the cost of keeping U.S. troops in Korea. This seems like the beginning of a “security bill” from the United States in exchange for seeking the independent exercise of wartime command.
Seoul had originally planned to take over the wartime command in 2012, based on the decision that it would take a certain amount of time to secure intelligence and strike abilities to deter North Korea. The United States had originally presented the 2009 deadline at the Security Policy Initiative meeting in July, but government officials had considered it a judgement only at the working-level.
However, the United States has informed us through ministerial channels that taking command in 2009 is just wishful thinking from Korea. There is not a single military expert in the nation who believes that Korea will succeed in securing adequate firepower to independently exercise wartime command within three years, apart from President Roh Moo-hyun. As a result, Washington’s insistence of the transfer in 2009 is a message that it cannot consider Seoul’s position in pursuing its own goals, like the strategic flexibility of U.S. troops in Korea. In Mr. Rumsfeld’s request for “equitable” sharing of the defense costs, there is a trace of the United States’ cynicism about the transfer of wartime command. According to Defense Ministry data, South Korea now pays around 40 percent of the costs. The United States wants this figure raised to 50 percent. During 2005-2006, Seoul paid 680.4 billion won ($704 million), a decrease of 8.9 percent from the previous year as the Korean government had its claim accepted that it should pay less since the number of U.S. forces had decreased. The government had planned to further reduce the amount under the same logic. Washington, however, wants to increase Korea’s share by 10 percent. Under its assertion lies the logic that a nation large enough to independently exercise wartime command of its forces should take a larger responsibility in paying for its defense costs. A similar problem lies with wartime munitions. Our government would like to obtain 5 trillion won worth of ammunition for free or at a minimal cost. But if the United States comes out with the same logic and asks the full price, Seoul will have to bear a further burden. The government must reveal what kind of plans it has prior to the summit talks between Seoul and Washington in September. Most of all, it must work to see through our position regarding the takeover of wartime command.