The United States has agreed to an indefinite delay in handing over wartime control of troops on the Korean peninsula to South Korea. The U.S. has held wartime authority over South Korean troops since the Korean War in the early 1950s. A transfer of authority had been scheduled for next year.
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel on Thursday welcomed South Korean Defense Minister Han Min Koo to the Pentagon, where the two signed an agreement outlining a conditions-based process for transferring wartime control of forces in South Korea to the South Korean military in the future.
“While this agreement will delay the transfer of operational control, it will ensure that when a transfer does occur, Korean forces will have necessary capabilities to address an intensifying North Korean threat,” said Hagel.
North Korea has launched a series of rockets off its coast in what it has called test firings.
Korea expert Joel Wit said this makes the continued need for a strong U.S.-South Korea defense as urgent as ever.
“Despite the U.S. effort at being patient - because our policy is called strategic patience - North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs are advancing,” said Wit.
North Korea’s recent positive gestures, from the release this week of an American held for months by Pyongyang, to its unexpected sending of a high-level delegation to Seoul, have left experts puzzled.
But these actions are baby steps where giant leaps are needed to decrease tensions, according to American Enterprise Institute’s Michael Auslin.
"If North Korea wanted to act in any cooperative way even remotely like a normal power, it would. You wouldn't have to negotiate with it. You wouldn't have to blackmail it. You wouldn't have to beg it,” said Auslin.
North Korea has flaunted missile capabilities, but Secretary Hagel told reporters there have not been formal consultations about placing an advanced missile defense system in South Korea.