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Defense Ministry scraps plan to create ‘Joint Forces Command’

The Defense Ministry decided to scrap a plan to create a top military command structure intended to enhance interoperability of its armed forces because of a constitutional challenge and resistance from the Navy and Air Force, officials said Thursday.

South Korea had planned to establish the so-called “Joint Forces Command” amid calls to improve interoperability among the three wings of the military to better respond to provocations by North Korea, which is accused of torpedoing a warship and shelling a border island in the past year.

Under the original plan, a four-star officer was to lead the new JFC with more command authority than the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Establishing the JFC and its commander, however, would be unconstitutional because the Constitution has no provision to justify such command structure, ministry officials said. Also, objections arose from the Navy and Air Force over fears that the Army would dominate the new operational command.

“We decided to scrap the plan to create the JFC and its commander because such operational command is not guaranteed by the Constitution,” a ministry official said on the condition of anonymity.

Instead, the ministry plans to allow the JCS chairman to have the responsibility for managing military personnel of the Army, Navy and Air Force, according to the official.

Currently, the JCS chairman has operational command over all military branches, but no power to manage military personnel. Each chief of staff of the three branches has the authority to manage their own troops.

The lack of authority in personnel management has long been cited as one of the major factors hindering interoperability of the troops.

Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin reported the final plan to reform the military’s top command structure to the National Assembly, the official said.

By June, the ministry will gather public opinions on the revised plan throughout public hearings. And President Lee Myung-bak expects to approve it by the end of the month, according to the ministry’s report.

Meanwhile, the ministry scaled back a theater of operations for a new command responsible for the defense of Yellow Sea border islands with North Korea.

The division-sized command, scheduled to be established in June, had been originally designed to have an operational command for the five border islands and the tense Yellow Sea border, but its theater of operations will be limited to only the five islands, according to the ministry. 

(Yonhap News)
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