South Korea and the United States should admit their agreement to transfer wartime operational control of South Korean troops from Washington to Seoul was a mistake and should focus on strengthening combined defense capabilities, a U.S. expert said Thursday.
David S. Maxwell, associate director of the Center for Peace and Security Studies at Georgetown University, made the point, stressing the planned transfer would involve dismantling the Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command, which he said would "undo sixty plus years of perfecting combined operations capabilities."
South Korea and the U.S. held a second round of negotiations in Washington this week to determine how long to delay the planned OPCON transfer. The talks were aimed at preparing for their annual defense ministers' talks in October, known as the Security Consultative Meeting.
"The SCM should admit that the OPCON transfer issue was a mistake built upon a shaky foundation during a period of mutual disdain and distrust by both nations," Maxwell said in the Nelson Report, a Washington-based newsletter, referring to the tense relations between the two countries when former late South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun was in office from 2003 to 2008.
The agreement, first reached in 2006, was the product of rising anti-American sentiment in South Korea and the U.S. desire to divert its forces from Korean responsibilities to support the global war on terrorism, the expert said.
"These conditions no longer exist and thus the initial 'rationale' (or assumptions perhaps) for OPCON transfer are no longer valid," he said. "Therefore discussion about alliance military capabilities should be focused on enhancing the combined capabilities."
Maxwell also emphasized that keeping the CFC intact is "critically important to the strategic interests of both nations to ensure they have the most capable war fighting command to ensure deterrence, defense, the ability to defeat the North's military if attacked as well as to conduct the full spectrum of operations necessary to deal with regime collapse."
South Korea handed over control of its forces to the U.S. during the 1950-53 Korean War to defend against invading troops from North Korea. Peacetime control of its forces was returned in 1994, and in 2006, the two countries agreed to have Seoul regain OPCON in the event of war.
The initial target date was 2012 before it was pushed back to 2015.
But last year, Seoul again asked for a delay in the OPCON transfer after North Korea conducted its third nuclear test, saying the security situation on the peninsula was markedly different from when the transfer was agreed upon a few years ago.
The two countries are basically in agreement on putting off the transfer. South Korean Defense Minister Han Min-koo and U.S.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel are expected to determine by how much it should be pushed back when they hold talks in Washington in October.
Some American experts, however, are calling for the South to stop relying on the U.S. for its defense.
"South Korea has achieved much, overcoming colonialism, war, and dictatorship to create a country at the front rank internationally," Doug Bandow, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, argues in Forbes magazine online. "A serious nation in every other regard, the ROK (South Korea) is an international welfare queen when it comes to defense, abusing the generosity of the American people."
Bandow stressed that the wartime OPCON should shift and U.S. troops should return home.
"South Korea could then take its place among the world's nations as truly independent, freed of its embarrassing reliance on Washington for defense, perhaps the most basic attribute of nationhood," he said. (Yonhap)