Joint exercise with U.S. to start March 8South Korea and the United States will conduct joint military exercises beginning on March 8, according to military sources on Sunday, though North Korean leader Kim Jong-un demanded during a recent Workers' Party Congress that the joint drills be ended.
The command post exercise (CPX), aimed at strengthening the allies' combined posture and capabilities to cope with contingencies on the Korean Peninsula, will take place in two phases over nine days. Following last year’s precedent, the main exercise is expected to be computer-simulated.
According to anonymous military sources, the second-stage Full Operational Capability (FOC) test for the transfer of wartime operational control (Opcon) from the United States to South Korea is unlikely to take place during the March CPX exercise due to the expected replacement of U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) Commander Gen. Robert Abrams in April. Current U.S. Army Pacific Commander Gen. Paul J. LaCamera is nominated to replace Abrams as head of USFK and the ROK (Republic of Korea)-U.S. Combined Forces Command.
While President Moon Jae-in’s administration has made the transfer of Opcon a key security policy objective to be achieved by 2022, when Moon’s term ends, that timeline has faced setbacks.
The number of criteria to be assessed for the Opcon transfer to South Korea is said to have been increased last year at the request of Abrams.
In his comments in an online seminar hosted by the Washington-based Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) in September, Abrams said, “We’ve got ways to go” regarding the Opcon transfer.
The FOC test, which was scheduled for last August, was pushed to this year as a result of Covid-19 precautions.
Multiple government sources said that the FOC test will take place during joint exercises in the latter half of the year, and that the results will be examined during the allies’ Security Consultative Meeting in the autumn to determine a precise year for the Opcon transfer.
However, there are also suggestions that the Opcon transfer may be further complicated following a comprehensive review of U.S. policy toward North Korea by the new Biden administration.
Shin Beom-chul, director of the Center for Diplomacy and Security at the Korea Research Institute for Economy and Society, said, “Foreign policy and defense specialists within the U.S. Democratic Party are cautious regarding the Moon administration’s North Korea policy and approach to the U.S. alliance.
“Some are even concerned that the Opcon transfer might accelerate South Korea being drawn closer to China.”
BY LEE CHEOL-JAE, KIM SANG-JIN
AND MICHAEL LEE [firstname.lastname@example.org]