Renegotiate the timetable

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Renegotiate the timetable

South Korea and the United States have kept bilateral ties close and solid in recent years. Such reciprocal support is essential and normal between two countries tied by a deeply rooted and imperative security alliance.

Yet the two countries fail to see eye-to-eye in one area: the timing of the planned transfer of wartime operational control of South Korean troops from the U.S. Forces in Korea. Defense Minister Kim Tae-young said recently that the planned transfer is unavoidable, as it was a promise between two states, but keeping to the original April 2012 time-line would be disastrous.

Yet top U.S. officials, such as U.S. Forces Korea Commander Walter Sharp and Assistant Defense Secretary Richard Lawless, have maintained that a change of plan won’t do South Korea any good. But they must reconsider, given the unprecedented tension on the peninsula with less than two years left before joint command ends.

The joint command in wartime control is the bedrock of the security alliance between the two countries. But the U.S. decision to hand over full command of military operations to South Korea was made when bilateral ties were at their worst. An excessively progressive government in Seoul and an extremely conservative administration in Washington kept their distance and didn’t hide their mutual distrust. The transfer that will dramatically change the military operations in Korea may not have been discussed in a friendly and sensible atmosphere, but agreed upon during an emotional spat.

In the mood of that period, it would have been impossible for the two sides to sit together and go over every detail before reaching a conclusion on the transfer. The two sides most likely decided upon the transfer even before they met and then endured negotiations merely out of formality. The entire process of reaching a crucial decision had been slight.

It is unreasonable for the current U.S. administration to stick to a decision produced through such abnormal procedures. It could strain the restored ties between the two nations. The two countries should at least hold fresh talks to go over the concerns and problems related to the planned transfer. Even if they reach the same conclusion, the two defense authorities must re-examine military capabilities in various scenarios.

The latest attack on a South Korean Naval warship underscores North Korea’s military threat as well as various weaknesses in the South Korean defense forces. Many experts in the United States also express concern over the planned timing of such major changes in South Korea. Washington should take heed.
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