The United States reportedly informed South Korea during the Security Consultative Meeting (SCM) recently held in Washington, D.C. that the second phase of a three-phase verification process of South Korea’s operation capability required for the transfer of wartime operational control (OPCON) cannot be carried out by next year. Seoul had been pushing ahead with a plan to complete the second and third verification processes by the end of next year so that the transfer can be completed before President Moon Jae-in’s term ends.
Seoul had been requesting Washington to conduct the delayed second phase and the final phase of the verification process next year but the latter said the second phase, let alone the third, cannot be carried out by next year. It is likely to cause a rift between South Korea and the U.S. as the latter clearly expressed its stance at the SCM that the transfer of OPCON cannot be completed during the presidency of President Moon Jae-in, which ends in May 2022.
According to multiple sources on Wednesday, the U.S. side said during the 52nd SCM held in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 14 (local time) that it will be difficult to conduct the Full Operational Capacity (FOC) test, a second phase of the verification process required for the transfer of OPCON, within next year. It appears the U.S. wants to postpone the FOC after next year. An official from the Ministry of Defense said the two sides agreed to continue to talk to resolve their disagreement on the possibility of the FOC test within next year.
The FOC test evaluates the South Korean military’s capability to operate the command system in four areas including military action, intelligence, military supplies, and communications in accordance with the situation, such as initial response, full-scale war, and counterattack in a war-time simulation.
The fact that a joint communiqué issued between South Korea’s Defense Minister Suh Wook and his counterpart Mark Esper did not include anything about FOC seems to reflect the disagreement between the two sides. A South Korean government official said the joint communiqué did not state neither when the FOC test will be carried out nor if the two sides will negotiate on the matter, meaning the two sides had a significant disagreement. The U.S. appears to have decided that the FOC test cannot be carried out as planned since the scaled-back joint military exercise and COVID-19 have affected South Korea’s military readiness.
A Cheong Wa Dae official said the transfer of OPCON can be somewhat delayed but there is much time left until President Moon Jae-in leaves office in May 2022, implying that the second and the third verification processes can be carried out after further discussion. Diplomatic sources, however, said there are already voices of skepticism within the South Korean government that the transfer does not have to be completed in a hurry while President Moon is in office.
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