SEOUL — South Korean defense officials have given a partial endorsement to a recent Pentagon-commissioned study that suggests the U.S. military take steps to cover for perceived shortcomings in the South’s ability to defend itself.
Ministry of National Defense officials said they disagree with some elements of the independent assessment of the U.S. military’s plans for its Pacific forces, done by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. But one official said he would welcome the additional U.S. military support that has been proposed .
The report recommends that the U.S. should:
- Expand the presence of Marines in joint exercises with the South’s military, particularly in the Yellow Sea where 50 South Koreans were killed in North Korean attacks on the Cheonan warship and Yeonpyeong Island in 2010.
- Consider deploying two Littoral Combat Ships to Chinhae Naval Base in South Korea.
- Delay the planned 2015 transfer of wartime operational control of allied forces to the South until the South Korean military is better prepared to assume the additional responsibilities.
The assessment done by CSIS — a Washington, D.C., think tank — was completed in response to demands from the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee, which froze funding for all military moves in the Pacific until the Pentagon could justify they were necessary and could be completed in a cost-efficient manner.
The 108-page report largely validated the Pentagon’s plans to shift forces as it refocuses its efforts in the Pacific in the years ahead.
“North Korea remains the most immediate military threat to U.S. interests,” the report said. “The North’s ability to sustain an invasion of the South may have deteriorated, but Pyongyang’s ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs and uncertainty about stability under Kim Jong Un are forcing the United States and the Republic of Korea to contemplate additional contingencies, including potential North Korean use of weapons of mass destruction in war-fighting scenarios … provocations comparable to (the 2010 attacks) … and regime collapse or instability.”
The study suggested South Korean officials are “interested in expanding the (U.S. Marine Corps) presence on the peninsula because of weaknesses in the (South Korean) Marines’ capabilities to manage (Yellow Sea) contingencies as revealed in the Cheonan and Yeonpyeong attacks.”
A South Korean defense ministry official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said an increase in the U.S. Marine presence “will certainly be effective in preventing North Korean provocations on the (Yellow Sea) islands.”
“I believe this recommendation shows…they listened to us,” he said.
The CSIS report said that rotationally deploying two Littoral Combat Ships to South Korea, “could address the mine-sweeping and anti-submarine warfare requirements in Northeast Asia.”
The Ministry of National Defense official said his office has never made such a recommendation, but, “If that happens … it would be a good thing, too. I can see no reason to oppose the idea.”
Three ministry officials interviewed about the report said they did not agree with the recommendation about holding off on the scheduled 2015 transfer of operation control in the event of war.
They pointed to comments by U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, in a letter that accompanied the CSIS report when it was submitted to the Senate committee.
Panetta wrote, “The CSIS independent assessment seems to imply that the United States needs to impose new caveats on wartime OPCON transition. This includes the provision that dissolution of Combined Forces Command be contingent on (South Korea) attainment of necessary capabilities, including command and control.
“In fact, this caveat is part of a series of planning milestones toward which the department is already working to ensure that wartime OPCON transition occurs as planned with no loss of readiness of our combined forces,” he wrote.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., along with committee members Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., issued a joint statement in response to the CSIS report saying it “helps to frame the many issues associated with the re-posturing of U.S. forces in the Asia-Pacific.”
“We agree with CSIS’s emphasis on the need for (the Department of Defense) to articulate the strategy behind its force-posture planning more clearly,” the senators said. “Support for the resourcing of major overseas initiatives, in the current fiscal environment, will depend to a significant extent on a clear articulation of U.S. strategic imperatives and the manner in which the investments address them.
“Congress must also be confident that the DOD force planning and realignment proposals are realistic, workable, and affordable,” the statement read.