Rethink the control transferConservative voices from the United States have spoken against the transfer of wartime operational control from the United States to South Korea planned for April 2012.
American panel speakers at a forum co-hosted by the Asia Foundation’s Center for U.S.-Korea Policy and the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Foundation in Washington D.C. unanimously called upon the Korea-U.S. joint military force, the Combined Forces Command, to reconsider handover of wartime command or at least delay the process.
The speakers included Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow of the Brookings Institution specializing in national security and defense affairs, and Derek Mitchell, principal deputy assistant secretary of defense in charge of Asian and Pacific security affairs.
Opinions at home are also divided over the transfer of wartime control, which has been commanded by the U.S. side since the Korean War ended in 1953.
The idea was first floated by former President Roh Moo-hyun in support of greater sovereignty and self-defense ability. But conservative and hawkish security experts have been against the plan since the beginning.
Even defense officials have publicly raised concerns over security risks and proposed a delay in the process if Washington agreed. If security experts from Korea and the U.S. share the same view, we believe the U.S. government should consider re-examining the plan.
The logic behind the argument that the joint command system should be maintained beyond 2012 is simple: It’s too risky. North Korea is still heavily armed with weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear and chemical bombs.
And South Korea has not yet fully tested its command capacity against a serious military threat.
The Pentagon assures us that its pursuit of strategic flexibility for American troops in Korea won’t undermine the Korea-U.S. alliance or its deterrence against North Korea.
But opposition to the decision or the timing has not arisen from suspicion about the U.S. security commitment. Rather, the 2012 calendar includes sensitive events like presidential elections in South Korea and the United States and a self-imposed deadline for North Korea to become a Kangsung Daeguk, a nation with a powerful military.
It would be reckless and risky to pursue control transfer timed with North Korea’s nuclear hazard and other security vulnerabilities. The U.S. Defense Department has long maintained that it cannot tolerate even a simple security blunder. We hope such that rule applies to the Korean Peninsula as well.