New plan for post-Opcon transition considered

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New plan for post-Opcon transition considered

Seoul and Washington will maintain similar combined forces command even after the wartime operational control (Opcon) is handed over to Korea in 2015, a South Korean military official said.

“After the transfer of wartime operation control [to Korea], Korea and the U.S. will disband the South-U.S. Combined Forces Command but create a so-called ‘combined theatre command’ on a similar scale,” the official told JoongAng Sunday on Saturday. “Both countries agreed on the new organization, in which the head of South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff will become the chairman and the commander of U.S. Forces Korea will be the vice chairman.

“We are in the process of preparing for approval of this plan at the upcoming South Korea-United States Security Consultative Meeting in October,” the official said.

Seoul’s Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin also said that the current system of the Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command is “an ideal system.”

“Both countries have a mutual consensus that we should move forward with the command in that way,” Kim said at the 12th International Institute for Strategic Studies Asia Security Summit in Singapore on Saturday.

When asked if U.S. forces would negatively respond to a South Korean chairman of the new command, Kim said “there could be some emotional problems.” But he added, “that matter wouldn’t be a barrier to create the new structure of the command.”

Asked whether he discussed the matter of the new command during his meeting with the U.S. Defense Minister on Saturday in Singapore, he said, “I judged that the wartime operational control is not a matter to be discussed at this meeting. We should have more working-level discussions.”

At the same time, some U.S. politicians and military officials also expressed concerns over the direction of a South Korean general over U.S. forces in Korea, which is unprecedented for the world’s superpower.

“Under the new plan, although it would be a South Korean general who chaired the combined theatre command, it would still be a U.S. general to direct the UN forces,” a South Korean military expert said on the condition of anonymity. “In the case of war on the Korean Peninsula, there is a high possibility of intervention by UN forces, which means the entire operation is effectively led by U.S. forces.”

By Kim Hee-jin [heejin@joongang.co.kr]

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