An unavoidable delay
The scheduled transfer of wartime operational control in December 2015 from the United States to South Korea has been delayed once again. Defense ministers of the two countries signed an agreement in Washington stipulating the United States will transfer authority over wartime operations based on the security environment and capabilities of the Korean forces, not a fixed timetable.
Under the new agreement, South Korea must be fully capable of leading the combined forces. Second, South Korean forces must be able to counter both the North’s small provocations and nuclear and missile attacks. That should include completion of the so-called “Kill Chain,” or pre-emptive deterrence and strikes against North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction, and the Korean Air and Missile Defense (KAMD) system. Therefore, the handover could happen when the military upgrade is finalized in 2020.
The delay is somewhat unavoidable. Through three nuclear tests, North Korea seeks to enhance nuclear capabilities along with efforts to upgrade short and longer-range missiles and multiple rocket launchers. Under Kim Jong-un, Pyongyang’s provocations have become more blatant. Many experts have advised against the command handover given security instability and potential economic repercussions. When South Korea regains full control over combined forces, its defense cost also will soar. The nation’s overall deterrence capability remains questionable and the U.S. posture has not been as strong as in the past. For several reasons, the status quo of U.S. command in the foreseeable future is the right and inevitable choice. Military deterrence and maintenance through allied forces is a crucial part of our defense.
However, we must persist with updating and reinforcing the military. Ultimately, it is up to us to defend ourselves. The delay also presents many challenges. For instance, South Korea has to come up with 17 trillion won ($16 billion) to establish the Kill Chain and KAMD systems. The planned move of combined forces in Yongsan, Seoul, to Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi, also will have to be delayed and requires coordination with the local government, which had been preparing to host the new U.S. military base. Some also fear Washington may pressure Seoul to buy its military weapons and shoulder more of the cost to maintain U.S. troops here in exchange for the delay in the command handover. The Ministry of National Defense must ensure transparency so there are no unnecessary misunderstandings and suspicions over the new deal.
JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 24, Page 34