Not all hugs and kissesDespite a festive mood to celebrate the 65th birthday of the Republic of Korea Armed Forces and the 60th anniversary of the Korea-U.S. military alliance yesterday, controversies were also raised over pressing security issues: a possible new delay in transfer of wartime operational control of troops to Korea and U.S. pressure for Korea to join in its missile defense (MD) program. Both sides are still in a deadlock over increasing Korea’s share of the costs of housing the American military here. The Washington Post reported that the U.S. government and Congress do not welcome the Korean government’s request for the transfer delay, putting a bit of wobble into the six-decade military ties.
From the start, Washington was embarrassed by Seoul’s transfer delay request. Shortly after our government made a clandestine request, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel unilaterally made it public followed by reaffirmations of the original transfer schedule - by the end of 2015 - by the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff and commander of the U.S. forces in Korea. Even as our Defense Ministry official said both sides reached an agreement on the need to delay the transfer, Hagel said it’s too early to draw any conclusion. All of that suggests the possibility that there won’t be final agreement on the issue in the annual Korea-U.S. Security Consultative Meeting today.
Washington is concerned about Seoul’s excessive dependence on the United States for security despite its painful defense budget cuts. Though Washington did not explicitly say so, it feels uncomfortable because Seoul is reluctant to meet its demands to join the MD program, pay a bigger share of the costs of the USFK and increase its own military spending.
But the government has a couple of things to do before it takes back wartime operational control. First, as President Park Geun-hye stressed in a speech today, it must develop a “kill chain” and KAMD, the Korean low-altitude air and missile network to effectively deter Pyongyang’s nuclear capability. Second, the government needs to approach Washington’s demand for our participation in the MD program in a flexible way, as indicated by former Presidential Secretary for Diplomacy and Security Chun Yung-woo.
Whatever the case, we must abandon the blind faith that military ties with the United States fully address our security concerns. We must safeguard our security on our own.