| South Korea and the United States on Wednesday agreed on the bilateral "Tailored Deterrence Strategy against North Korea Nuclear and other WMD Threats" during their annual Security Consultative Meeting. The agreement outlines contingency counter-actions against various nuclear provocations from the North, calling for pre-emptive strikes against the origin of attack in the event that Pyongyang shows signs of using its nuclear weapons. The pact allows Seoul and Washington to engage in all-out diplomatic and military responses to handle the North Korean nuclear threat, which would be categorized into three stages: threats, imminent use and actual use.
It is a milestone progress that the two allies paved the way for a pre-emptive strike in the event of its imminent use of nuclear weapons. Under any circumstances, the North`s nuclear weapons should not be allowed to fly across the demilitarized zone.
Although the two sides failed to reach a final conclusion on Seoul`s proposal of a postponement in regain its wartime operational control (OPCON) from Washington, they agreed to continue consultations on this issue without being pressed by the timing. Senior defense officials in Seoul said, "The mutual understanding (between Seoul and Washington) is that it is virtually impossible to complete the OPCON transfer by December 2015.
The two sides agreed to form a joint task force to assess and review the security situation on the level of North Korea threats and the South`s readiness posture to conclude by the end of June 2014 a new timing for the OPCON transfer.
It is true that the security situation on the Korean Peninsula have changed since June 2010, when the OPCON transfer was first decided. North Korea has taken a step closer to diversifying its nuclear arsenal by conducting the third nuclear test and drastically enhanced its capabilities for launching medium- and long-range missiles that would carry nuclear weapons. However, the "Kill Chain" system that Seoul is building in response to Pyongyang`s nuclear weapons is unlikely to be completed until 2020. The timing and conditions for the OPCON transfer should be concluded in the way that it would effectively defend the Korean Peninsula from the North`s threats and contribute to increasing the combined defense capabilities.
The U.S. political circles and some U.S. politicians suspect that the South is attempting to "free-ride" on U.S. security guarantees without doing its best to increase its defense capabilities. Regardless of the final conclusion scheduled for the first half of next year, Seoul should make substantial preparations for strengthening combined defense capabilities after the OPCON transfer. The two allies should also quickly conclude the framework of a future combined command structure that would replace the current Combined Forces Command in order to prevent any confusion in the combined defense system.
Regarding the issue of establishing a missile defense system, the South should accelerate the building of its own missile shield separately from the U.S. missile defense system, which focuses on intercepting long-range missiles. However, it is important for the South to maintain the compatibility of intelligence assets for surveillance on North Korea, considering Seoul`s heavy dependence on the U.S. The South Korea-U.S. military cooperation is mutual assets that should be further strengthened after the OPCON transfer.