[VIEWPOINT]Give world a stake in wartime commandI wonder if the South Korean government has yet given satisfactory answers to the three questions General B. B. Bell, head of the United Nations Command in Korea, asked during his meeting with the Unification Culture Research Institute of the JoongAng Ilbo on Sep. 7, 2006.
The most difficult question to answer may be the last one: “How will this new command arrangement affect the United Nations Command, and the maintenance of the armistice agreement? How will the ROK government manage the armistice and exercise crisis management in any future armistice confrontation with North Korea?”
The wartime command structure of the Korean armed forces has undergone many adjustments since 1948 and can further be transformed in response to a changing security environment. What remains unchanged is that the objectives of the Korean armistice have been fulfilled as the UN Command has managed crises successfully despite innumerable violations and provocations from North Korea.
Operational command and control over the Korean armed forces in both war and peace was transferred to the United Nations commander in July 1950, as reaffirmed by a Korea-U.S. agreed minute in 1954 and the creation of the Combined Forces Command in 1978.
Peacetime operational command and control was returned to the Korean chairman of the joint chiefs of staff on December 1, 1994. But wartime operational command and control remained with the UN commander. It seems the U.S. government desires an expeditious transition to an “independent command” so as to avoid negative consequences without authority or benefits in light of the lessons learned from three military incidents over its history, which later aroused controversies and misunderstandings about the role of the U.S. forces in Korea.
Notwithstanding, an undeniable reality is that the United Nations Command in Korea continues to be the pivotal entity in ensuring the armistice system until it is replaced by a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula. Furthermore, the international community is moving toward requiring all parties concerned to act under the UN’s mandates.
Gen. Bell’s proposal to “create a truly multinational staff” in the command was received skeptically in South Korea when he made it to the armed services committees of both houses of the U.S. Congress in March. Those responses dissipated when he explained that the extra manpower was needed to facilitate increased exchanges between North and South Korea.
Britain, France, Australia and New Zealand now provide officers on a rotational basis to assist the command’s management of the two corridors crossing the Demilitarized Zone. Other countries like Colombia, the Philippines and Thailand are known to be considering sending such officers.
We must have the command fulfill its duties mandated by the Security Council resolution of June 1950 until the armistice is replaced by a peace regime or at least until a new multilateral security structure is in place on the Korean Peninsula. To this end, we must encourage such a multinational staff to be expanded on a permanent basis and to be developed further into literally multinational forces with a multilateral operational command and control structure in the event of war.
By virtue of the increased capabilities of the Korean military, the responsibility for the protection of the Joint Security Area at Panmunjeom was transferred to the Korean armed forces and the chief delegate to the armistice commission on the UN side became a South Korean general in October 2004. It is time to appoint a Korean deputy commander of the command to be incorporated into a new multilateral command and control structure in wartime operations.
The time-tested survival and successes of the UN Command, Beijing’s permanent seat on the UN Security Council in 1973 and North Korea joining the United Nations as a full-fledged member are great assets for the maintenance of peace and security on the Korean Peninsula. We need to capitalize on these assets by having the UN commander retain wartime operational command and control over the Korean armed forces.
Considering the legally binding armistice agreement, the current security environment and future prospects for peaceful reunification of the Korean Peninsula, this is the right step for the Korean government to take at this stage. In addition, bilateral consultations with the United States will make this simpler by giving the right answer to Gen. Bell’s third question. This can be a way to put an end to unproductive, prolonged debates within the country over the transition of wartime operational command and control, satisfying the liberals by dissolving the command and allaying the conservatives’ new national security concerns.
*The writer is a distinguished professor of diplomacy at the Graduate School of International Studies, Yonsei University.
by Kim Jae-bum