Daniel Russel, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, arrived in Seoul yesterday to negotiate a timetable for South Korea regaining wartime Operational Control (OPCON) over its military. The U.S. first gained control of South Korea’s wartime OPCON in 1950, at the start of the Korean War, and has yet to relinquish it. South Korea regained its peacetime OPCON in 1994, but has repeatedly postponed previous attempts at regaining wartime control. Again, Korea is requesting a delay.
The transfer of OPCON could be a major benefit to those selling technology, services and hardware to the Korean government.
U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld first floated the idea of transferring wartime OPCON back to South Korea’s military in 2001. South Korea, it was said, was now a wealthy post-developing nation and should be fit to command and control its own military in the event of a war. In 2007, it was decided that 2010 would be the year that South Korea would finally regain control. Before this could happen, however, North Korea sunk the South Korean warship Cheonan in early 2010, which led to a scuttling of the plans. A South Korean documentary about the ship’s sinking opened in theaters last week in Seoul.
2015 is the new "tentative" date for a final transfer of military OPCON to South Korean. This should coincide with the additional plans of U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) to officially change its name to Korea Command (KORCOM) and finally close Yongsan Garrison. The U.S. has long desired to move from Yongsan Garrison, which sits north of the Han River, and at a strategic position to quickly deploy troops as a “tripwire” force against possible North Korean aggression, to Camp Humphreys, which sits south of the Han river – a distance that may make it a little safer for American troops.
The U.S., after recently making a strategic re-pivot toward Asia, is making curious moves. Certainly nobody expected the U.S. to intentionally reduce its military presence on the continent – or deliberately reduce its role as the security guarantor of almost every Asian country it can possibly grab ahold of on China’s periphery. And yet, that seems to be exactly what is happening. In Japan, there is talk of changing the country’s constitution to finally allow for the fielding of a proper military. The U.S. seems willing to even let Japan off the leash. One can’t help but think that sequestration has actually managed to affect U.S. national interests – something that everyone promised it wouldn’t do.
Unfortunately for South Korea, though, it seems like the U.S. is drawing down almost everywhere, and is no longer interested in shouldering the burden of its security guarantor. Korea needs to quickly increase its command and control abilities, while purchasing more military hardware. At present it places too much reliance on the U.S. military.
What do you think? Is South Korean wartime OPCON going to finally transfer on time? What do you think about South Korea finally getting wartime control of its military?
IPG is engaged in projects for companies and entrepreneurs doing business in Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Korea, Laos, Myanmar, the Philippines, Vietnam and the U.S.