South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin on Tuesday expressed his reservations about taking over wartime operational control (OPCON) in 2015 from the United States as scheduled, citing growing North Korean threats.
Kim made the remark while briefing lawmakers on last week's bilateral meeting with U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel in Seoul, which was dominated by discussions of the politically sensitive issue in South Korea, as the two Koreas are still technically at war.
"North Korea is different from the past. Considering the third nuclear test and the situations from March to May, the December 2015 deadline is not appropriate for (OPCON transfer)," Kim told a meeting of the parliamentary defense committee.
In light of the heightened tension with Pyongyang's near-daily war threats against South Korea and the U.S. for their joint military drills, Kim said he has suggested to President Park Geun-hye to reconsider the timing of the planned transition.
"In early May, the defense ministry proposed (the presidential office) Cheong Wa Dae to postpone the OPCON transfer, and President Park Geun-hye agreed," Kim said. "Considering North Korea in the next two to five years and the security situations on the Korean Peninsula, I thought it will be inappropriate to change the command structure as scheduled."
South Korea is scheduled to take over the wartime operational command of all troops on the peninsula in December 2015, a timeline that had been pushed back from the previous deadline of 2012, but rising threat from the communist rival fueled concerns over the planned transition.
During the annual Security Consultative Meeting, or bilateral military talks between South Korea and the U.S., last week, Kim and Hagel evaluated the growing security threat on the peninsula and South Korean military capabilities to determine whether Seoul is
ready to regain wartime command from Washington.
The Pentagon chief said the decision on the timing should be "conditions based," noting his government will continue consultations with Seoul to reach an agreement depending on conditions.
South Korea handed over its OPCON to the U.S.-led United Nations troops during the 1950-53 Korean War and subsequently regained peacetime OPCON in 1994.
Currently, the South Korean military remains in command under normal armistice circumstances, but the U.S. commander would assume OPCON of the two nations' forces if war broke out. (Yonhap News)