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National security is key in determining delay in OPCON transfer
JULY 18, 2013 07:11  
The South Korean government has proposed to the United States that the two allies reassess North Korean threats and the South Korean military`s readiness posture ahead of the planned transfer of operational control (OPCON) of the South Korean military to Seoul which is scheduled for December 2015. The proposal indicates that Seoul`s security situation and its military`s actual capabilities are more important than implementing the OPCON transfer on schedule. The offer is effectively a proposal of a delay in the transfer. Seoul`s intention is to exert all caution in OPCON transfer in accordance with the changes in the security environment following North Korea`s nuclear test and long-range missile launch.

In February 2007, the U.S. agreed with South Korea to transfer the OPCON to Seoul on April 17, 2012. In June 2010, then South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and U.S. President Barack Obama agreed to postpone the transfer to December 1, 2015. Despite the postponement, there has been growing anxiety over Seoul`s independent exercise of its military operational control. There have been concerns that if the South Korean chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff takes over the control, which is currently held by the commander of the South Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command (CFC) who is the commander of the U.S. Forces Korea), the CFC would automatically be disbanded, ultimately undermining the foundation of the joint defense system.

It is unclear whether Washington will accept the proposal of another delay in the OPCON transfer. Initially, Seoul and Washington agreed that they would make a final conclusion on the transfer in consideration of the security situation on the Korean Peninsula and progress in the South Korean military`s preparations around the time of the transfer. A conclusion on another delay will likely be made during discussions with U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who is scheduled to visit Seoul in October for the bilateral Military Committee Meeting and Security Consultative Meeting.

What is important is that whether or not the OPCON transfer is implemented on schedule, the combined operational capabilities of the two allies` militaries for coping with threats from the North should not be weakened. Ultimately, South Korea should be responsible for its own defense. Seoul should make thorough preparations and allow no cracks in its defense posture even if the U.S., which plans to cut its defense spending by up to 1 trillion U.S. dollars over the next 10 years, reduces its troops stationed in the South.

It is disappointing that Seoul`s projects to reorganize its military command structure aimed at building a strong military have failed over and over again. The National Assembly, which holds the key to relevant legislation, is stuck in political wrangling. South Korea`s proposal to reassess the security situation on the Korean Peninsula should not be seen by the U.S. that Seoul is dragging its feet in the OPCON transfer.

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