South Korea and the United States have agreed to a plan to establish the Future Command of Combined Forces, one of the biggest issues in transfer of wartime operational control (OPCON) from Washington. The two allies have reached agreement on the structure of the command, in which the South Korean military will assume the commander of the Future Command of Combined Forces, which will replace the Republic of Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command that currently commands both the South Korean military and the U.S. forces stationed in Korea. As the two countries have made a meaningful agreement on conditions of OPCON, watchers say that the move for OPCON transfer will pick up speed during the Moon Jae-in administration.
South Korean Defense Minister Chung Kyung-doo and his U.S. counterpart James Mattis held the 50th Security Consultative Meeting (SCM) at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia on Wednesday (U.S. time), and signed on memorandum for record on a future command structure plan that calls for the establishment a Future Command. The plan suggests that the South Korean military assumes the commander post, while the U.S. will take the vice commander. Under the current South Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command system, the commander of the U.S. Forces Korea Command assumes the commander to control the South Korean military as well during wartime.
In light of the nature of the U.S. military that always avoids being placed under command of a foreign country’s military, many watchers forecast that the two sides would fail to reach agreement on the Future Command. “The command structure including staff structure is almost the same as that of the South Korea-U.S. Command Forces Command,” a South Korean Defense Ministry source said. “The South Korea-U.S. joint defense mechanism will continue to be robustly maintained as it is now.”
In order to dispel concern over security after OPCON transfer, South Korea and the U.S. also announced joint defense guidelines that include the U.S.’ pledge to defend South Korea. The guidelines, which will be applied to the South Korean and U.S. militaries after OPCON transfer, will reportedly include guidance suggesting that Washington will continue to maintain the same level of South Korea-U.S. joint defense readiness as in the present. South Korea and the U.S. stopped short of specifying the timing for OPCON transfer, but they agreed to step up effort to ensure early OPCON transfer as well.
Commenting on the new inter-Korean military agreement, which was adopted in Pyongyang in September, Defense Secretary Mattis said, “I think the measure can help ease military tension.” Seoul and Washington also reached on the day final agreement on a plan to shelve "Vigilant Ace," a South Korea-U.S. joint air exercise that was scheduled in December.
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