South Korean President Moon Jae-in is attempting to regain wartime operational control over the South Korean military from the United States in an era of increased tensions with North Korea.
Wartime operational control, known as OPCON, describes the U.S.-led command of South Korean military forces in time of war.
The effort comes at a time when tensions between North Korea and the U.S. are very high.
Moon spoke about the issue at an event marking South Korea’s 69th Armed Forces Day [on] Thursday. He said increasing military abilities and reducing dependence on U.S. military power would strengthen the country’s position with the North.
“When the South has wartime operational control, the North will fear us more, and our armed forces will be trusted more,” Moon said.
Some analysts believe Moon is attempting to separate himself and his country’s military from President Donald J. Trump, who has amped up the rhetoric against North Korea as Pyongyang has continued its nuclear weapons and ICBM development.
The South Korean military works closely with the Combined Forces Command and the United Nations Command, led by the U.S. General Vincent Brooks. Brooks also commands more than 28,000 U.S. military forces in Korea.
In a war, the U.S. military commander would take control over both militaries, but control over South Korean forces isn’t automatic; the South Korean president would have to agree and it appears that Moon may be having second thoughts now that there is a U.S. president who seems more than willing to stand up to Pyongyang.
Critics of the move say it would be perceived by Pyongyang as a split between Washington and Seoul, something the North has been waiting for. Others say it could weaken U.S. resolve to help defend the South.
Bottom line: If the hand-off does occur, the White House may very well take the move as a sign that Moon, who all along has been pushing for more aid and diplomacy with North Korea — two tactics that have failed miserably in the past to thwart the North’s quest for nuclear weapons — isn’t in agreement with Trump on containing the North. If so, that may just cause Trump to rethink the U.S. commitment to its reluctant ally.
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