Delay wartime control transferShould South Korea reconsider taking back wartime operational control of its forces from the United States now that North Korea has conducted its second nuclear test?
The transfer of wartime command is scheduled for 2012, and some are voicing concern.
With tensions building on the Korean Peninsula, the strength of the Korea-U.S. combined forces should not be compromised in any way, they argue. And the transition from U.S. to South Korean control runs the risk of, at some juncture, weakening defenses.
We agree with this perspective, but we oppose entirely halting the transfer of wartime operational control, which has already made sizable progress.
The problem is the deadline for transfer: 2012. South Korea is at fault for setting such a close date and we highly recommend that the South Korean government rush to discuss the timing again with the United States.
Also, 2012 will be a busy year for both countries. The South and the U.S. are set to have presidential elections that year, and neither country wants to see the essential elements of the Korea-United States alliance changed at such a crucial time. We need everyone to have their eyes on the transfer when it eventually goes ahead, and nobody wants any distractions.
The plan is also on shaky ground because people are worried that the initial deal was established in the wrong atmosphere. Some feel that the decision to take back operational command was taken without sufficient confidence or understanding by the administration of the late President Roh Moo-hyun.
The transfer emerged as an issue between the two allies in early 2003. Roh came up with the idea of making national defense more self-reliant. From that time on, both countries have harbored different views on a range of security issues and Korea-U.S. ties subsequently deteriorated to the lowest levels in history throughout Roh’s term.
This mood has made an immense impact on discussions concerning taking back wartime operational control.
For example, while Korea wanted the year to be 2015, the U.S. proposed 2009, displaying its displeasure with the South Korean government. That mood, say some Korean government officials, still remains among U.S. defense officials.
Then, early this year, North Korea announced that 2012 would be when it achieves its goal of becoming a “powerful country.” Some military observers predicted from this that the North will have become a nuclear weapons state by that year. This forecast may have seemed too far-fetched but it isn’t any longer after this week’s nuclear test. This means that our security could be in jeopardy if this crucial change is made in the combined forces under the circumstances.
We hope President Lee Myung-bak would ask the United States to delay the transfer at the Korea-U.S. summit scheduled for June 16. If the U.S. accepts, South Korea can quell fears stirred up by the nuke test and focus on economic recovery.