S. Korea asks US to reconsider transfer of wartime troop control
By ERIK SLAVIN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 18, 2013
South Korea has asked the United States to re-examine an already-delayed plan to give Seoul wartime control of its military forces by 2015, South Korean defense ministry officials said.
While South Korea retains peacetime control of its approximately 639,000 servicemembers, control in the event of war currently transfers to a U.S. four-star general under the Combined Forces Command.
The transfer was originally planned for 2012 but was delayed three years ago.
The two sides will discuss the transfer date at an October meeting in Seoul, said a defense ministry spokesman who requested anonymity, which is common practice in South Korea.
“The significance of variables in North Korea’s nuclear program has changed,” the ministry spokesman said.
The spokesman said South Korea isn’t 100 percent committed to a delay but wants the U.S. to consider it as the regional security situation develops during the rest of the year.
Another defense ministry official confirmed that the proposal had been made and said that if control transfer is postponed, no backup date has been agreed upon.
South Korean media outlets have reported that the delay proposal was made during a June multinational meeting of defense chiefs in Singapore.
At a May joint news conference in Seoul with South Korean President Park Geun-hye, U.S. President Barack Obama said the 2015 operational control transfer date remained on course.
South Korea will continue to plan for a 2015 transfer date for the time being, ministry officials said.
Earlier this year, Gen. B.B. Bell, who retired in 2008 as commander of U.S. Forces Korea, called on the United States to let South Korea “permanently postpone” the transfer.
Bell, who strongly advocated the transfer as commander, said North Korea’s nuclear development put the South at a “significant disadvantage on any future battlefield, or in any future negotiations.”
Operational control became a prominent issue in 2006 under President Roh Moo-hyun, who framed the transfer as a national sovereignty issue. However, when the Pentagon responded that they would go along with a transfer as soon as 2009, opposition conservatives opposed the move and government officials balked.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said during an October 2006 visit that it was “time for the Republic of Korea to assume a larger role and responsibility” for its defense.
A year later, both sides agreed to a 2012 transfer. That date changed in 2010, when South Korean officials cited North Korea’s purported sinking of the ROKS Cheonan, its increasing missile development and its nuclear program as reasons to delay the transfer.
Stars and Stripes staffer Yoo Kyong Chang contributed to this report.