Welcome shift of controlThe 2007 agreement on the transfer of wartime operational control from the United States to South Korea was the result of strained relations between the two governments. The agreement, which stipulates that the ROK-U.S. Combined Forces Command be dissolved after South Korea takes over wartime operational control from the U.S. on April 17, 2012, was devoid of mutual respect.
The Roh Moo-hyun administration approached the issue from a political perspective, stressing our defense capability and sovereignty, rather than from a military perspective. At first, the U.S. government regarded the proposal as premature. But after judging South Korea’s desire for military independence as part of the Roh administration’s policies, the U.S. quickly presented a counter proposal for an early transfer that would have changed the date from 2012 to 2009.
In the war of nerves, the top priority was when the transfer would take place. Little attention was given to important factors such as the pivotal preparedness of South Korean forces.
In this sense, the agreement struck by President Lee Myung-bak and U.S. President Barack Obama to delay the deadline to Dec. 1, 2015, is a desirable one, particularly because the two heads of state expressed the will to correct the previous agreement, despite the complex issues involved in getting the job done. In meeting the new deadline, we hope both countries will consult with one another on issues ranging from military operations to intelligence to military reinforcement.
The question is when and how: Only when the two countries make a rational decision after fully accounting for the North’s military threats and the ways our military capability should be enhanced can our security be guaranteed.
However, the initial deadline has long been criticized, as the two sides did not initially undertake such considerations. The premise that we are going to equip ourselves with high-tech, sophisticated military power by 2011 by investing a whopping 150 trillion won ($123.5 billion) crumbled in the wake of the global financial crisis. At this point, we have not yet built the capacity to counter the military power of the North, which has been devoting all of its energy to the development of long-range missiles following two rounds of nuclear tests. As seen in the recent Cheonan incident, our defense capability is still immature. And 2012 could be a year of political uncertainty in South Korea and the U.S. due to the presidential elections in both countries. We wonder where the rationale for the command transfer is.
And yet, the Lee administration should do its best to explain the revised timetable to the public. It should also explain in detail not only the history behind the shift but also the concessions we may have to make to the U.S. or how much more money will be needed to postpone the deadline. Already there are rumors that the government has secretly made a concession on the South Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, which is currently awaiting ratification.