Deadline talks welcomedThe power transition committee set up by the president elect has said the decision to hand wartime operational control back to the Korean military requires “thorough reconsideration.”
The Korean military is scheduled to take back control on April 17, 2012. But now the committee is indicating that a more flexible approach to the deadline may be possible, depending on the level of threat posed by North Korea and South Korea’s ability to respond.
We believe that the president-elect is moving in the right direction. We should remember that South Korea and the United States did not fully discuss the deadline before the announcement was made.
The current administration publicly sought to take over wartime operational control, but the United States responded negatively. Even Leon J. LaPorte, the former commander of the U.S. Forces Korea, said in January 2006 that the transfer of wartime operational control should be carried out only after the Korean military ensured it was fully prepared. LaPorte’s successor, Burwell Baxter Bell, agrees.
But the United States suddenly changed its stance after the ninth round of the Security Policy Initiative talks held in July 2006. That was when the deadline extended forward to 2009, despite the widely known fact that Korea would not be prepared to take over control even before 2010 at best.
Bringing forward the deadline demonstrated the U.S. military’s displeasure with the Korean government. Ill-feeling stems back to when the government hesitated about securing land for the U.S. Air Force. There was also bad blood when Korea demanded that the U.S. military pay for environmental damage on former U.S. military bases in Korea.
The current administration, which repeatedly said wartime operational control is an infringement on national independence, irritated the United States to the point that relations eventually soured.
Now there is a new political climate here, and there is a feeling that Korea-U.S relations will thaw under the administration of President-elect Lee Myung-bak.
The new administration should devise a plan to beef up the Korean military, but more than anything else, the United States should be more flexible about the deadline.
It is our position that sincere and serious-minded discussions about the flexibility of the deadline is the best way to restore the Korea-U.S. alliance.