Reset military transfer dateU.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Minister of National Defense Kim Tae-young reaffirmed in a joint communique issued at the end of the 41st Security Consultative Meeting last Thursday that the wartime operational control of South Korean troops by the commander of the U.S. Forces in Korea will be transferred to Seoul by April 17, 2012. The agreement came after the two parties recognized the growing concerns about the transfer, but it is unlikely to completely abolish the controversy over the plan.
In assessing the overall security situation on the Korean Peninsula, including military modernization, the economy and the North Korean nuclear issue, there could be a security crisis here, even if wartime operational control is transferred as scheduled. Minister Kim also said early this month: “Upholding the Republic of Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command is most preferable. However, we should prepare ourselves for the planned transfer, as it is a promise between the two nations.”
At this year’s parliamentary inspection of the Defense Ministry, several problems emerged in relation to the Korean army’s preparedness. For example, there was difficulty with the transition to armored divisions, as armored vehicles were not provided as scheduled; the Air Force largely reduced the training period due to skyrocketing oil prices; and there are problems with the military strength and training of the Korean Army in relation to its ability to cope with the North’s long-range artillery should it launch an attack on a major metropolitan area. In particular, it is common knowledge that our troops will need more time beyond 2012 to prepare for a North Korea equipped with nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, and the 100,000 soldiers of its specialized forces.
In the joint communique, Gates pledged to provide supplementary military services to Korea after the transfer of wartime control. The document also underlined provisions for “extended deterrence” against the North’s nuclear capability. The agreement affirms the existence of problems with Korea’s defense capability. The U.S.’s security pledge should be evaluated from this perspective. However, it is our view that the buildup of an efficient defense capability under the unified command structure of the ROK-U.S. Combined Forces Command cannot be replaced by this public commitment.
Korea and the U.S. confronted several thorny security issues when they agreed on the transfer of wartime control in 2006. We think that it was the major reason that such a rough-and-ready agreement was made without an in-depth appraisal of the mid- to long-term military capabilities of the Korean army. April 2012 is too soon to realize the transfer of wartime control.