Bracing for CFC dissolutionThe Center for Strategic and International Studies has recommended that the dissolution of the ROK-U.S. Combined Forces Command be contingent on the handover of wartime operational control planned for 2015. The Washington-based think tank in a recent report made the suggestion in order to highlight South Korea’s need to improve its military capabilities, as well as command and control, before the CFC disbands.
Some defense experts and U.S. military officials have opposed the plan to dismantle the CFC even when it’s central to the transfer plan. U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta suggested that the CFC be sustained at the helm of a South Korean commander. Both the U.S. and South Korean governments remain jittery about dismantling of the CFC - a long-time pivot for joint operation of the two forces - as it could undermine their readiness and deterrence against North Korea.
The CFC is a unique system in the world. Structured to operate as a one-nation force, its effectiveness is undoubted. But it does not necessarily need to be maintained when it loses wartime operational control. Rather, the two countries should focus on how to ensure joint readiness and strong defense posture after wartime operation control is given to South Korea. The two have been exploring various ways to ensure close and effective cooperation between the two militaries.
Still, there are concerns that the South Korean military may not gain full independence - strategically and technologically - under the new system. For instance, South Korea may not get quick and necessary support from U.S. forces at times of crisis. The two militaries, however, can ensure cooperation by drawing up detailed plans and going through various training drills to come up with the best possible structure, particularly amid China’s rising clout in the Asia-Pacific region.
Adding to the apprehension is South Korea’s failure to get legislative approval for an ambitious defense reform bill last year. The sweeping reform aimed at realigning command, unit, troop and force structures was to enhance our combat readiness when we take over wartime command control from 2015. But the delay in the reform exacerbated concerns over South Korea’s capabilities.
The government and the legislature must pass the bill as quickly as possible and continue to work on ways to bolster our defense capabilities. If doubts still linger, we can negotiate with Washington to further delay the timetable on the operational control transfer. But it is premature to fret over the CFC.