[Viewpoint] Taking defense into our own hands

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[Viewpoint] Taking defense into our own hands

At a hearing at the House Armed Services Committee on Feb. 3, United States Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said that the deployment of the U.S. Army to the Korean Peninsula could be delayed if the peninsula comes under a state of emergency due to military provocation by the North. The United States is already fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, so it would be difficult for the army to arrive in Korea in accordance with the time line defined by the U.S.-ROK Combined Forces Command basic war plan, known as OPLAN 5027.

On the same day, Gen. Walter Sharp, the commander of the United States Forces Korea, gave a lecture at the USFK Yongsan Base and said that the force would be deployed anywhere in the world if a mutual security challenge occurs.

Putting together the remarks of these high-ranking U.S. defense officials, there’s a growing possibility that the USFK will be used to supplement forces in Afghanistan. And if a war breaks out in the Korean Peninsula while a part of the USFK is away, that would delay the implementation of OPLAN 5027. As the transfer of wartime operational control and the dissolution of the U.S.-ROK Combined Forces Command are approaching in 2012, the officials’ comments add to Korea’s anxiety about its security.

It is noteworthy that the U.S. defense official made his remarks right after the Obama administration announced the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review on Feb. 1. The timing, and the statement itself, give an indication of the atmosphere within the U.S. Department of Defense. Along with the Nuclear Posture Review, the Ballistic Missile Defense Review and the Space Posture Review, the QDR is one of the most important reviews published by the Defense Department. The QDR was first published in 1997 according to the National Defense Authorization Act, and this year’s report is the fourth one, following reviews in 2001 and 2006.

The primary concern addressed by the QDR is not the defense of the Korean Peninsula, but hybrid warfare. A hybrid threat refers to an unidentified multidimensional threat, as opposed to traditional warfare. The strategy to engage in two wars at the same time and the “1-4-2-1” strategy in the QDRs of the past had in mind large-scale conventional wars, such as a war in the Korean Peninsula. In contrast, a hybrid threat has a more extensive capacity and a comprehensive spectrum. It takes into consideration not just full-scale war, but irregular war, terrorist attacks and criminal activities as a means of war. Since it is impossible to respond to such a complicated threat with a one-dimensional approach, the defense posture demands a creative synthesis of all the elements that contribute to national strength.

The four objectives the 2010 QDR proposes are to prevail in today’s wars, to prevent and deter conflict, to prepare to defeat adversaries and succeed in a wide range of contingencies, and to preserve and enhance the all-volunteer force. In order to attain these goals, there are six key missions: defend the United States and support civilian authorities at home; succeed in counterinsurgency, stability and counterterrorism operations; build the security capacity of partner states; deter and defeat aggression in anti-access environments; prevent proliferation and counter weapons of mass destruction; and operate effectively in cyberspace. The U.S. forces would customize its cooperation with allies and friendly nations to take into account the local characteristics and threat.

We can infer from this that the defense of the Korean Peninsula is a lesser priority than combatting new threats, such as terrorism.

We need to ponder the section of the QDR that addresses “normalizing the stationing of U.S. forces in the Republic of Korea.” The status of USFK is changing from “forward-deployed to forward-stationed with family members.” The change in status has pros and cons. Being stationed with family members means a better living environment as well as increased stability in the Korea-U.S. military alliance. Meanwhile, if USFK’s forward-stationed status becomes solid, it would be used to enhance the strategic flexibility of the USFK. The USFK would change into a global task force that could be deployed to crisis regions anywhere around the world, in addition to defending Korea. Should that happen, the war posture for a conflict in the Korean Peninsula and anti-North Korean deterrence capacity are likely to weaken.

The QDR also pointed out that the 2012 transfer of wartime operational control to the ROK will be pursued according to the time line as Korea takes a lead role in its own defense. Korea cannot help but be concerned about a possible security vacuum when the wartime operational control is transferred. Therefore, we need to prepare for frequent transfers of the USFK and a delay in the augmentation plan. Korea and the United States need to be able to send a clear message that they will never in any circumstances jeopardize the security of the Korean Peninsula.


*The writer is the director of the Security Studies Program at the Sejong Institute. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.


by Lee Sang-hyun

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