Full operational control of South Korean troops should not be handed over to Seoul in haste and out of political considerations, a U.S. academic says.
Michael O'Hanlon, a fellow at the conservative Brookings Institution, made the recommendation in an article titled "Don't Rush the U.S.-Korea Command Change" on Tuesday.
"In Korea, our preeminent concerns need to be unity of command and effectiveness of our combined deterrent against a still very potent North Korean threat," he said. "Ensuring fair burden-sharing is not the principal prism through which this issue should be viewed."
The original decision was a political one, because then-President Roh Moo-hyun was "playing the nationalism card,' O'Hanlon said, and "found a willing accomplice for the transfer plan in U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who wanted a more expeditionary American global footprint and felt that U.S. forces in Korea were too anchored to the peninsula."
But he added the current "command arrangements are a remarkable testament to allied effort over the decades… If it is to be changed, that should happen carefully and as slowly as military leaders on both sides think prudent."
He cited the "tragic failed hostage rescue attempt in Iran in 1980" and "roughly a quarter of all American fatalities" from friendly fire in Iraq in 1991 as examples of a "failure of unified command" and poorly coordinated military operations.
"Command structures that are bifurcated or otherwise ambiguous in certain ways can raise the risk of such tragedies in the future," he added.