U.N. left out of plans for Korean Penin­sula

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Andrew Salmon

SEOUL — Plan­ning for a han­dover of mil­i­tary com­mand to South Korean forces has failed to pro­vide for a small but vi­tal U.N. force, jeop­ar­diz­ing the al­lied de­ter­rent on the Penin­sula, the U.S. com­man­der said.

Gen. Bur­well B. Bell, joint head oftheCom­binedForcesCom­mand, warned that the prob­lem must be re­solved be­cause a cri­sis on the Penin­sula could “al­most in­stan­ta­neously lead to com­bat op­er­a­tions.”

In that case, “there could be no time to make changes in our com­mand struc­ture while cri­sis es­ca­lates,” Gen. Bell told re­porters. Un­less the prob­lem is ad­dressed, “this sit­u­a­tion will make it im­pos­si­ble to cred­i­bly main­tain the ar­mistice.”

Com­bined Forces Com­mand, led since the Korean War by a U.S. gen­eral, has op­er­a­tional wartime con­trol over about 29,000 U.S. troops and more than 600,000 South Korean troops.

At the re­quest of the gov­ern­ment of Pres­i­dent Roh Moo-hyun, that com­mand will be dis­solved, and the South Korean forces would serve un­der South Korean com­mand. The change is set to go into ef­fect in the next two to five years.

How­ever, Gen. Bell warned, no ad­e­quate plan­ning has been done for the par­al­lel U.N. Com­mand, a largely ad­min­is­tra­tive body that over­sees the 1953 ar­mistice that ended the Korean War.

The unit has only 60 sol­diers, but it pro­vides the le­gal frame­work for the mo­bi­liza­tion of re­in­force­ments from the 16 U.N. mem­ber states that fought in the Korean War if an­other con­flict breaks out.

“It al­lows send­ing states to re­turn forces to Korea with­out fur­ther [U.N.] res­o­lu­tions,” said Dave Oten, spokesman for U.S. Forces Korea. “The le­gal author­ity is al­ready there.”

Gen. Bell, in a meet­ing with for­eign jour­nal­ists two weeks ago that was also at­tended by se­nior diplo­mats from the 16-na­tion U.N. coali­tion, warned that clar­ity in com­mand struc­tures will be es­sen­tial dur­ing the com­ing tran­si­tion to Korean com­mand.

“The in­ac­ti­va­tion of Com­bined Forces Com­mand and the trans­fer of Repub­lic of Korea forces wartime [op­er­a­tional com­mand] to an in­de­pen­dent ROK mil­i­tary com­mand will cre­ate a mil­i­tary author­ity-to-re­spon­si­bil­ity mis­match for the United Na­tions Com­mand,” he said, us­ing the acro­nym for Repub­lic of Korea.

He noted that the U.N. com­man­der would no longer have “im­me­di­ate ac­cess” to South Korean troops, a sit­u­a­tion that would un­der­mine the mil­i­tary de­ter­rent.

Tra­di­tion­ally, the com­man­der of U.S. forces in Korea also serves as U.N. com­man­der. Gen. Bell said he ex­pects that ar­range­ment to con­tinue and that the U.N. com­man­der will main­tain op­er­a­tional con­trol of all U.N. forces in Korea.

One am­bas­sador at the con­fer­ence con­firmed that his coun­try was pay­ing close at­ten­tion to the way the U.N. Com­mand will be struc­tured dur­ing the tran­si­tion.

The United States and South Korea are at odds over the tim­ing of the tran­si­tion of the Com­bined Forces com­mand. Al­though the Korean gov­ern­ment pro­posed the change, it is in less of a hurry than the Amer­i­can side is.

Seoul ex­pects to be ready to take full con­trol af­ter 2012, but Wash­ing­ton is press­ing to make the switch as early as 2009.

Gen. Bell said that he hoped a def­i­nite date would be ironed out through bi­lat­eral ne­go­ti­a­tions by this sum­mer.

It was the gen­eral’s sec­ond press con­fer­ence this year. Three weeks ago, he spoke about is­sues be­dev­il­ing the U.S.-Korea al­liance, par­tic­u­larly bud­getary dis­agree­ments and re­ported Korean moves to de­lay the re­de­ploy­ment of Amer­i­can troops from their cen­tral Seoul base to a less in­tru­sive gar­ri­son near the city of Pyeong­taek, 40 miles south of the cap­i­tal.

The frank na­ture of the gen­eral’s com­mentssur­prised­some­an­a­lysts.

“Bell is ex­press­ing his frus­tra­tion. the Korean side doesn’t want to make dif­fi­cult de­ci­sions, and it is leav­ing Wash­ing­ton frus­trated,” said Peter Beck, a Seoul-based an­a­lyst with the In­ter­na­tional Cri­sis Group.

“There is not even a mas­ter plan for Pyeong­taek that both sides can agree on. Korea wants con­trol, but doesn’t have the means of pulling it off on their own.”

The al­liance has been strained by mass anti-Amer­i­can protests aimed at U.S. troops, the rise in South Korea of a new gen­er­a­tion of lib­eral politi­cians who are crit­i­cal of Wash­ing­ton and the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion’s sus­pi­cion to­ward Seoul’s at­tempts to en­gage North Korea.

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