Korea and the U.S. have agreed to create a new joint command that will replace the Combined Forces Command when full operational control of Korean troops returns to Seoul in 2015.
The new body is expected to take over key wartime functions of the CFC.
The dismantlement of the CFC has been a core gripe of those opposed to the handover of wartime operational control to Seoul, since they fear it could fatally weaken combat capabilities and let the U.S. off the hook in an emergency on the Korean Peninsula.
Defense Ministry Kim Kwan-jin and U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in annual security talks in Washington D.C. on Wednesday agreed to form a joint taskforce that will come up with ways to effectively combine the command structures of the Korean and U.S. militaries. It will complete its tasks early next year and implement the findings in regular joint military exercises.
"If the CFC is dismantled under existing plan, Korea and the U.S. will have separate command structures here," said one Defense Ministry official. "We need to create a body that links and controls the command structures of the two sides."
Korea and the U.S. have talked for years about creating a coordinating body following the handover of full operational control to fill the gap in combined operations. They now apparently believe that mere coordination will not be enough to deal effectively with an emergency.
A high-ranking Defense Ministry official said, "We will study what type of body will be the most effective in combining the two command structures and how it can maintain the strengths of the CFC."
But another Korean officer said operational control of Korean troops will still be handed over to Seoul as scheduled, and the Korean military will then lead wartime operations as planned, while the U.S. providing support.
The creation of a new joint body could lead to criticism that the original goal of transferring full operational control of Korean troops is being watered down.