South Korea and the United States have begun discussions about the possibility of deferring the transfer of the wartime operational control of the Korean military. Their timing is good. The latest developments on the Korean Peninsula necessitate such discussions.
There have been news reports recently that the two sides now share the need to put off the transfer that is scheduled for December next year. Korean officials were quoted as saying that negotiations will start in earnest on the occasion of the Korea-U.S. Integrated Defense Dialogue slated for next week in Washington, D.C.
South Korea and the U.S. originally agreed to transfer the wartime control of the South Korean military on April 17, 2012. The two sides agreed to delay the transfer until 2015 in the wake of North Korea’s torpedo attack on the Cheonan warship in 2010.
The Seoul government again asked the U.S. to defer the transfer after the North’s third nuclear weapons test in February last year. U.S. government and military officials’ immediate response was not positive to the South Korean request for a second delay.
Considering the latest military threats from the North, the U.S. side’s shift toward a seemingly positive position on the issue is desirable. The allies’ agreement to put off the transfer could send a strong message to the North Korean leadership, which has been escalating threats with its conventional arms and weapons of mass destruction.
North Korea has heightened military tensions in recent months. The North test-launched a number of rockets, short-range and mid-range ballistic missiles and artillery shells. It has threatened a fourth nuclear weapons test, saying it would be “in a new form.” On top of these came the scare from drones sent by the North.
The transfer of wartime control will certainly weaken the allies’ deterrence against the growing military threats from the North Korean regime. It could also mislead Japan, prompting it to build up its military power, which in turn could provoke China.
All these oblige Seoul and Washington to bring their discussions on the timing and conditions of the transfer to a wise conclusion at the earliest possible time. That could prevent the North from making a miscalculation about the allies’ determination and ability to strike back at any of its provocations.
Anyone who opposes or is skeptical of the transfer should be reminded of what Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, commander of the U.S. Forces Korea, told the U.S. Congress recently: “The Kim Jong-un regime is dangerous and has the capability, especially with an increasing asymmetric threat, to attack South Korea with little or no warning.”