South Korea and the U.S. appear to be at odds over where to put their Combined Forces Command after the planned relocation of U.S. bases in Seoul to Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province, as Washington wants to keep it in the capital while Seoul remains cautious.
The local daily Chosun Ilbo reported Monday that the U.S. military recently expressed its wish to keep the CFC in Seoul as the allies have virtually agreed to delay the transfer of wartime operational control, scheduled for December 2015.
Under an initial bilateral agreement, the CFC was to be dissolved after the OPCON transfer in 2015 ― meaning the allies had no reason to discuss where to station the CFC. But with the allies having virtually agreed to delay the transfer in consideration of North Korea’s nuclear threats, they have to determine where to base the CFC, which will remain intact pending the transfer.
Under the “Yongsang Relocation Plan” to move U.S. bases in central Seoul to Pyeongtaek by 2016, the U.S. Forces Korea, U.N. Command and Eighth U.S. Army are to move to the new garrison south of Seoul. But there was no agreement on the location of the CFC as it was to be dismantled.
Seoul’s Defense Ministry refused to elaborate on the allies’ discussion over the future location of the CFC. But it stressed that there was no change at all to the YRP plan to relocate U.S. bases to Pyeongtaek.
“The South Korean and U.S. authorities are in talks over a variety of issues concerning the ‘conditions-based’ transfer of wartime operational control,” ministry spokesperson Kim Min-seok told reporters.
“But nothing has changed in our basic position that the U.S. installations in Yongsan, central Seoul, should move to Pyeongtaek in accordance with the YRP scheme.”
In its Monday’s edition, Chosun Ilbo quoted a government source as saying that the U.S. stressed that the CFC needed to be in Seoul to ensure smooth defense cooperation with South Korea’s Defense Ministry and Joint Chiefs of Staff, and effective responses to possible contingencies.
Allies have been discussing the timing of the transfer based on security conditions. Observers say that the transfer is most likely to take place between 2020 and 2022 ― a period when South Korea is to complete the process of acquiring assets necessary for its missile defense program and preemptive strike system.
Until the transfer takes place, the CFC will remain intact. The military authorities are reportedly considering stationing the CFC in the same building as South Korea’s JCS in Seoul.
The allies’ defense chiefs are expected to forge a consensus over where to put the CFC during their annual Security Consultative Meeting slated to take place in Washington in October.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport and the Seoul Metropolitan Government are considering establishing a large-scale ecological park at the location of the current U.S. military bases in Yongsan and designate some 80 buildings, including the current CFC building, as modern cultural properties.
By Song Sang-ho (email@example.com)