[PRO]No more delaysIf we are serious about playing a leading role in the Asia-Pacific order and its peace and prosperity, we must take wartime command of our troops independently of the United States after 2015 as agreed. South Korea is the world’s 15th-largest economy and has the world’s seventh-largest defense budget. It is among the middle-ranking nations with achievements in hosting of the Summer Olympics and the World Cup. Yet the country still primarily relies on the U.S. for wartime operations.
Some are shamelessly skeptical of the South Korean defense capabilities in planning and entering a war with North Korea without the help of U.S., even though the country has spent quadruple that of North Korea on its defense system over the last 35 years. Israel, with an economy one-seventh the size of ours, and with half of what we spend on defense, performs with daunting military competence and confidence in the Middle East region of 300 million people.
As a subordinate-unified command of the U.S. Pacific Command, the South Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command runs abnormally by referring key security decisions to a commander in charge of the Korea theater of operations. The four-star general chief commander of the Combined Forces Command during peacetime oversees risk management, contingency, war games and training, but in case of war would have to report and take command from the higher U.S. Pacific Command. The commander-in-chief reports to the U.S. Congress annually as a part of the U.S. Pacific Command unit, but hasn’t appeared once at the Korean National Assembly.
Any suggestions and guidelines from the Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff are shrugged off as unnecessary interference. It is therefore naive to suggest that South Korea and the U.S. command equally in defending our territory.
It is in fact the opposite. Back in 1994, U.S. Commanding General Gary Luck reported rising tensions with North Korea due to its suspected nuclear program and discussed war possibilities with the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Command and the White House, but didn’t bother to consult with Seoul. Gen. Walter Sharp, who was commanding the Combined Forces and U.S. Forces in Korea. At the time of North Korea’s bombardment of Yeonpyeong Island in 2010, he refused to discuss with the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff a retaliatory attack by air force on North Korea, claiming the decision was in the Korean government’s jurisdiction. He merely waited for orders from the Pentagon while dragging his feet not to get involved in local warfare. The Combined Forces Command without discretionary authority makes up South Korea’s defense resource as well as its burden.
We may at one point make a strategic choice on whether or not to unify the two Koreas or keep them apart. When the time comes, it should be the commander-in-chief of the U.S. Pacific Command or the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff rather than the commander of the U.S. Combined Forces Command who we have to address for these critical wartime decisions.
Upon assuming the full helm in wartime operational control, the South Korean military would be in command backed by the world’s most powerful U.S. forces. The inefficiency of a separated command system during wartime and peacetime would be fixed when united into one control tower. It is what the South Korean military envisions as a long-term blueprint to prepare for reunification and sustainable prosperity while ensuring peacekeeping in the region.
Seoul and Washington reached a landmark deal to rationalize and realign their defense system according to sovereignty rights. We have to honor the agreement. When the decision is deferred time after time or reversed, how credible will our defense system be, not to mention our national reputation?
Translation by Korea JoongAng Daily.
*The author is the editor-in-chief of defense and security monthly D&D Focus.
by Kim Jong-dae