The U.S. Department of Defense said on Thursday (local time) that the envisioned transfer of wartime operational control (OPCON) to South Korea will take place when the mutually-agreed upon conditions are fully met. It is the first response from the Joe Biden administration to the OPCON transition issue, which reaffirmed its stance that the transfer of OPCON will be conditions-based, not time-based.
Answering to a question by The Dong-A Ilbo regarding South Korean Defense Minister Suh Wook’s vow to make progress on the OPCON transition within his term, Pentagon spokesperson John Supple said conditions-based transfer of OPCON is not only what has been agreed by the U.S. and South Korea but also necessary to ensure the security of our military forces, people, and the region. “A commitment to a specific timeframe would put our forces and people at risk,” said Supple. “Ensuring the security of military forces, people, and the region is more complicated than swapping the leadership of the Combined Forces Command.”
In a New Year’s press conference on Wednesday, Defense Minister Suh said that it is his responsibility to make progress on the transition of OPCON within his term. The U.S. Department of Defense, however, put emphasis on the “conditions” for the OPCON transition, expressing a skeptical view on time-based OPCON transfer. Supple’s remarks are in line with the Pentagon’s official position announced last October, after the two countries failed to reach an agreement on the timing of the OPCON transfer at their annual Security Consultative Meeting (SCM).
An official from the U.S. Department of Defense said their stance on the transfer of OPCON is literally the same, adding that it will not change under the Biden administration. This suggests that Washington’s stance on the issue will not change even if it is reviewed again by the Biden administration.