Seoul scheduled to assume wartime command of its own forces in 2012 but some argue timetable is too hasty
The commander of American forces stationed in South Korea says a major shift in command structure on the peninsula will proceed as scheduled. He says the alliance between the two countries will be just as effective as in the past six decades.
General Walter Sharp told a gathering of business leaders in Seoul, Tuesday, the United States and South Korea do not intend to alter plans for a command shift scheduled to take place in two years.
The United States positions about 28,000 military personnel in South Korea to deter or defeat any repeat of North Korea's 1950 invasion of the South. Under the present alliance agreement, the United States would command South Korea's military in the event the Korean War were restarted. However, South Korea is scheduled to assume wartime command of its own forces on April 17, 2012.
Some South Koreans have argued that timetable is too hasty, and that South Korea may not be ready. Sharp disagrees. He says South Korea's forces have evolved into an "outstanding military," and that the United States is now willing to play a supporting role.
"I think that sends a strong signal to North Korea... and I do think to change that would send the wrong signal," Sharp said.
The general offered reassurance that the transfer of wartime operational control, or OPCON, is not as radical a change as some would believe.
"OPCON transition does not mean - does not mean - that the Republic of Korea has to have independent and self-reliant forces. We, the U.S., are committed to provide the capabilities - very similar to what we're doing right now - that we need to be able to fight and win, if North Korea were ever to attack" said Sharp.
For obvious reasons, U.S. and South Korean war plans are not made public. However, military analysts say, in a wartime situation, South Korea would likely do much of the fighting on the ground while the United States would offer high-tech logistics and surveillance support as as air cover.
"So it is a combined war fight now, and it will remain combined in that both of us will be fighting side by side... after OPCON transition," said Sharp.
He says the United States and South Korea are in constant communication to keep war plans up to date.
"The operations plans... are not against the North Korea of yesterday or today. They are against the North Korea of what we see will be in place with its capabilities in 2012. And we continue to adjust that," Sharp said.
He says the U.S. - South Korean alliance is ready for any contingency, including instability or a humanitarian emergency in the North.