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SEOUL — When South Korea and the United States dissolve the military Combined Forces Command in upcoming years, they also must define the future of the United Nations Command, the senior U.S. general on the peninsula said Thursday.

Army Gen. B.B. Bell, who heads U.S. Forces Korea, the Combined Forces Command and the U.N. Command, made the remarks during a speech at the Seoul Foreign Correspondents’ Club.

When South Korea takes over wartime military command of its own troops sometime between 2009 and 2012, as the two nations recently agreed, it will create a “military authority-to-responsibility mismatch for the United Nations Command,” Bell said.

In other words, the U.N. commander no longer will have “immediate access” to South Korean troops the way Bell does now. Bell said the situation could make it impossible to maintain the Korean armistice — the U.N. command’s main mission.

“It is important that we organize in peacetime as we will for war,” he said. “This is particularly true here in Korea, where crisis escalation could quickly — indeed almost instantaneously — lead to combat operations.”

That, Bell said, leaves the question: “Is there a future role for the United Nations Command on the Korean peninsula?”

“The answer is yes — absolutely,” he said. It must remain part of the deterrent and warfighting capabilities, he said. Bell said the issue is defining the U.N. Command’s role when the South Koreans have wartime command.

He indicated the command could work the same way the U.S. military will: in a supporting mission. In that scenario, the U.N. commander “could assign forces supporting missions under tactical control of supported commanders,” Bell said. The commander would “retain operational command over all supporting U.N. forces and those forces would also maintain their own lines of national command back to their nations.”

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