From the end of the Korean War to 1990, South Korea had evolved from a country dependent on other nations for its national security to a strong and growing nation, increasingly capable of meeting its own defense needs. Civilian industries maintained military assembly lines as a separate, and generally small, part of their corporate activities.
By deploying main forces such as mechanized and self-propelled artillery units, attack weapons and equipment in the forward area, the North has a combat posture that would allow it to launch surprise attacks at any time. Under such circumstances, Pyongyang may launch provocations against the South as a way of resolving the sense of crisis or dissatisfaction within its system, or to gain international attention. Conflicts deriving from food shortages or from decision-making processes could also result in an emergency within the North Korean regime.
Korean participation in the Vietnam War provided an opportunity for the modernization of ROK armed forces. In 1966 when combat divisions were actively deployed in Vietnam after the initial expedition in 1965, ROK force improvement, though limited, was initiated through the US Brown Memorandum which promised to support a ROK force modernization plan. This memorandum, howevert did not clearly specify any effect, characteristics or time limit. As a result, the memorandum led only to modest improvements such as provision of old-model tanks and M-16 rifles to the ROK forces in Vietnam. In the meantime, a series of North Korean provocations occurred, with a North Korean guerrilla attempt to infiltrate the Blue House on January 21, 1968, and two days later the hijacking of the USS Pueblo, an American reconnaissance ship, on the East Sea. In April 1969, a US EC-121 reconnaissance aircraft was also shot down.
In response to these events and upon ROK request, the US government decided to hold cabinet-level annual conferences on security issues with the ROK government. Korea was promised military assistance of one hundred million dollars as well as the construction of an M-16 manufacturing facility. President Park Chung Hee, however, decided to proceed further to realize the goal of a self-reliant defense posture in preparation for the future possibility of a national crisis. The need for self-reliant defense was all the more strengthened by the international environment at that time. In March 1971, the Seventh Division of the US Forces in Korea (USFK) withdrew from the peninsula following the Nixon Doctrine of July 1969, which championed the importance of all nations becoming self-reliant in regards to their defense.
The US government declared a $1,596 million aid program during 1971-1975 to support the Five-Year Modernization Plan of ROK forces. This was agreed as compensation for participation in the Vietnam War as well as for the decrease in the size of the USFK. This program, however, did not reach all its initial goals as the aid period was delayed to 1977. Nevertheless, it did result in upgrading a part of ROK forces' equipment for the first time since the truce of the Korean War. The equipment used by ROK troops in Vietnam also contributed to the partial modernization of ROK forces.
On April 19, 1973, President Park Chung Hee gave an instruction during an inspection of the 1973 Ulchi Exercise, to establish independent military strategies for self-reliant defense and to develop a force improvement plan. In response, the Joint Chiefs of Staff drew up Joint Basic Military Strategies in July 1973, delivered the Guidelines for Military Equipment Modernization Program to each service and integrated plans of the three services. The result was the Eight-Year National Defense Plan (1974-1981), the first self-reliant force improvement plan for the ROK, which was subsequently approved by the president on February 25, 1974.
In order to respond more quickly to the North's provocations, the ROK military tracks and surveys not only its major military trends, but also its non-military trends. Also, the ROK military is reflecting detailed military countermeasures to be taken immediately in various plans and is developing them against predicted provocations from the North. In order to survey the activities of North Korean aircraft, a monitor control and reporting center (MCRC) operation system is run 24 hours a day. If North Korean military activities seem suspicious, the movement must be thoroughly tracked and surveyed until it becomes clear; if necessary, the ROK military can receive support from US military intelligence satellites.
Historically, operational control of South Korea's tactical armed forces has made the United States commander vulnerable to the politics of association. United States commanders have rigidly avoided commentary on South Korean party politics, confining public statements to purely military matters on such issues as arms buildups and threats from North Korea. However, in the complex politics of the Korean Peninsula, the United States commander's military opinions often have been publicly manipulated as support for Seoul's authoritarianism.
In May 1961 and December 1979, the command structure was breached by South Korean troops participating in military coups. A more complex set of circumstances occurred in May 1980, when troops were withdrawn from the CFC under existing procedures and dispatched to Kwangju to respond to the student uprising. Confusion in the South Korean public over the particular circumstances of the incident, the United States position, and the limits of the CFC's control led many South Koreans to believe that the United States fully supported the violent suppression of the uprising. The lack of an accurate historical record for nearly ten years generated widespread misunderstanding, and it has been credited with the rise of anti-Americanism in South Korea, a movement which continues.
Only after President Chun stepped down at the end of 1987, and the opposition in the National Assembly grew stronger, did the United States begin answering the questions concerning United States involvement in Kwangju. On June 19, 1989, Washington issued the "United States Government Statement on Events in Kwangju, Republic of Korea, in May 1980," in response to formal requests from the National Assembly. The statement addressed a series of questions related to the rise to power of then Lieutenant General Chun Doo Hwan. The statement noted no prior knowledge of the assassination of President Park Chung Hee, nor warning of the December 12, 1979, íncident, in which a group of South Korean army officers led by Major General Chun seized control of the military. It was revealed that Washington repeatedly protested to the government and the military leadership about the misuse of forces under the Combined Forces Command. The report also stated that South Korean authorities gave the United States two hours advanced warning of the extension of martial law on May 18, 1980, and no prior warning of the military's intention to arrest political leaders or to close both the National Assembly and the universities.
The statement clearly noted that none of the South Korean forces deployed at Kwangju were, during that time, under either the operational control of the CFC or the control of any United States authorities. Additionally, the United States had neither prior knowledge of the deployment of special forces to Kwangju nor responsibility for their actions there. The report addressed the use of the Twentieth Division, CFC, and clarified that the CFC agreement allowed both the United States and South Korea to assert control over its forces at any time without the consent of the other. According to the statement, the United States was informed in advance of intentions to use elements of the Twentieth Division to reenter Kwangju, that United States officials, after cautioning against the use of military force to solve a political crisis, accepted that it would be preferable to use the Twentieth Division rather than Special Forces units (but the latter were also involved). The report further documented that the United States repeatedly protested public distortions of Washington's actions and policy by Seoul and the South Korean press, namely allegations that the United States knew either of the December 12 incident in advance or of the extension of martial law, or that Washington approved of the Special Forces actions in Kwangju.
While the report rebutted most of the myths of American culpability for events in 1979 and 1980, the ten-year delay in issuing the report did little to resolve the misgivings held by many South Koreans, who still persisted in believing that the United States was in some way a party to the military takeover in May 1980, and the harsh suppression of the Kwangju demonstrations that followed.
During the 1989 Security Consultative Meeting in Washington (the meetings were held in alternate years in Seoul and Washington), the two nations agreed that the Moscow-assisted modernization of P'yongyang's air force and army indicated that the military situation in Northeast Asia remained tense and unpredictable. Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's Korean policy, focused on promoting unofficial contacts with Seoul though Moscow, continued to bolster P'yongyang's military establishment.
South Korean and United States leaders who attended the 1989 Security Consultative Meeting considered it unlikely that the Soviet Union would initiate a military conflict targeting South Korea. They believed, however, that increasing Soviet military support for North Korea made it highly probable that the Soviet Union would continue to assist North Korea if war broke out. For this reason, United States secretary of defense Richard B. Cheney and South Korean minister of national defense Yi Sang-hun agreed to strengthen strategic planning through existing organizations, such as the CFC.
America's long-time partners in the bilateral alliance in the Grand National Party were pushed into the minority by President Roh Moo Hyun and his supporters in the Uri Party. n December 2002, President Roh Moo-hyun was elected to a single 5-year term of office. In the April 2004 elections, the Uri Party won an slim, but outright majority in the National Assembly. Both the president and leading figures in this party seem to have a very different attitude toward the US-Korea Alliance than the politicians we were accustomed to working with in the past; they appear not to share our apprehensions about developments in North Korea; and they appear to be much friendlier toward China than are members of the GNP.
Many conservatives believed that then-President Roh Moo-hyun, who was elected on a wave of anti-American sentiment, "strong-armed" the U.S. into accepting the OPCON transition agreement in 2007. President Roh Moo-hyun, when he negotiated the 2007 OPCON transition agreement with the U.S., framed the issue as one of Korea regaining sovereignty over its armed forces. For many supporters of the agreement, national pride outweighed any questions they may have about the security implications of OPCON transition. Moreover, some supporters of the 2012 transition schedule believe it is in Korea's interest to not be dependent on U.S. forces. Many supporters of the 2012 schedule believe that OPCON transition will create conditions conducive to rapprochement between the South and North by removing an irritation for the North.
Lee Myung-bak, a strongly pro-American president, campaigned on delaying OPCON transition during the 2007 campaign. On the other hand, progressives in South Korea perceive OPCON transition as an issue of national sovereignty. Proponents of delay had several motivations, including security concerns, budget constraints, and political calculations. OPCON transition was widely misinterpreted in Korea to mean a reduction of U.S. support for Korea's defense, and proponents of delay argued that the threat from a nuclear-armed North Korea has only increased since the OPCON transition agreement was signed in 2007. Moreover, 2012 would be an inauspicious year for managing the handover because of presidential and National Assembly elections in Korea, a presidential election in the U.S., and the (likely disappointing) culmination of North Korea's self-proclaimed effort to become a "strong and prosperous nation."
The U.S. and R.O.K. agreed to transfer wartime operational control to the R.O.K. military on December 1, 2015.
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