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OPLAN 5029 - Collapse of North Korea

In late October 2008 the United States proposed developing a detailed Operations Plan [OPLAN] in case of the collapse of the North Korean regime. Yonhap News reported that the proposal came at a meeting between the heads of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of South Korea and the United States, known as the Military Committee Meeting (MCM). This would convert CONPLAN 5029 into OPLAN 5029. "The U.S. side proposed the countries develop CONPLAN 5029 into an operational plan at the MCM," the source was quoted as saying. The annual meeting of military chiefs was held in Washington on 16 October 2008. Defense Minister Lee Sang-hee and U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates agreed to closely cooperate to materialize CONPLAN 5029 (Operation Plan in Concept Format 5029).

On 17 October 2008 Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and Republic of Korea Minister of National Defense Lee Sang-hee issued a joint communiqu following the 40th Republic of Korea U.S. Security Consultative Meeting (SCM). It stated in part that "The Minister and the Secretary praised the substantial progress for the transition of wartime operational control (OPCON) of ROK military forces in accordance with the Strategic Transition Plan (STP), and reconfirmed the commitment for the April 17, 2012 wartime OPCON transition date. Secretary Gates offered firm assurances that the transition of wartime OPCON will be carried out in a manner that strengthens deterrence and maintains a fully capable U.S.-ROK combined defense posture on the Korean Peninsula, noting that the U.S. remains committed, both now and into the future, to respond quickly with appropriate military power to restore peace and stability to the Korean Peninsula. The Secretary reaffirmed that the U.S. will continue to provide significant bridging capabilities until the ROK obtains full self-defense capabilities."

On 29 October 2008 the DPRK's Korean Central News Agency responded that "The U.S. and the south Korean war-like forces openly held an anti-DPRK military confab at which they agreed to "rapidly dispatch reinforcements in contingency." This was a dangerous move aimed to provoke a new war on the Korean Peninsula and an unpardonable military challenge to the DPRK, to all intents and purposes ... Some days ago, the commander of the U.S. armed forces in south Korea kicked off war hysteria, crying out for "boosting the capability for perfect retaliation." This indicates that his outbursts are not an empty talk but are being put into practice.... These war servants who go reckless to attack fellow countrymen with arms provided by their American master will not escape from the fate of a tiger-moth as they are cursed and denounced by all the fellow countrymen.... The U.S. belligerent forces would be well advised not to misjudge the army of Songun [ie, Kim-jong Il] and the will of the DPRK but stop their reckless moves for a new war. "

CONPLAN 5029 is the US-ROK Combined Forces Command to prepare for the collapse of North Korea. The plan is reported to feature preparations by the South Korean and US forces to manage an inflow of North Korean refugees and other unusual situations if the North Korean regime collapses.

In August 1999 Gen. John H. Tilelli, commander-in-chief of U.S. Forces Korea, acknowledged that the CFC has mapped out a scenario to prepare for the collapse of North Korea. "It would be unusual if we didn't have one, and we are preparing for any course of action," he said. But he refused to disclose details.

In January 2005 the ROK National Security Council rejected an American proposal transform Concept Plan CONPLAN 5029 into an Operational Plan, OPLAN 5029. The OPLAN would provide much more specific military course of action to repsond to various types of internal instability in North Korea, such as regime collapse, mass defection and revolt. In June 2005 ROK Defense Minister Yoon Kwang-ung and US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld agreed to "improve and develop" the Concept Plan, stopping short of turning it into an Operation Plan. The improved Concept Plan will include measures for "various types of contingencies" other than military operations.

The United States had asked that the plan be approved in 2004. It would have given the United States command over South Korean military assets in the event of rioting, mass defections or a government collapse in the impoverished North. US officials reportedly had argued that the contingency plan was necessary to secure sensitive nuclear and military facilities, and for overall public safety.

In April 2005 South Korean Defense Authorities rejected a contingency plan that would give command authority to the United States military in the event of a North Korean collapse. South Korea's National Security Council on 15 April 2005 said it had vetoed a joint military plan with the United States on how to handle serious turmoil in North Korea, should it arise. South Korean officials said they were dropping the plan because it could limit "South Korea's exercise of its sovereignty."

These are the kind of things that would normally come out of alliance negotiations. But when the South Korean NSA (NSC) made unilateral announcements like this, they're clearly not consulting with the Americans beforehand. South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun was pursuing a policy of greater independence from its Cold War alliance with the United States. His government planned to increase military cooperation with China, and for South Korea to become what he calls a "balancing power" in Asia.

Washington had been a South Korean ally since the peninsula was divided at the end of World War Two. The United States led the United Nations force that supported South Korea in its war against the communist North in the 1950s, and US troops have remained in the South since. Under their alliance, should hostilities resume with North Korea, the United States would have overall command of both its own and South Korean forces. The two Koreas technically remain at war, because no peace treaty was signed at the end of the war in 1953. However, during 2004, the United States began to reduce its force in South Korea - to around 32,000 troops.

The announcement was another sign of strain in the alliance. One significant strain had been their different approaches in dealing with North Korea, which has declared that it has nuclear weapons. Washington distrusts the North and wants it to give up its nuclear weapons, or risk further isolation. Seoul, however, concerned about a possible collapse of its neighbor, had a policy of engaging with Pyongyang, in the hope of encouraging peaceful reforms in the Stalinist state.

The costs of Korean reunification have been estimated by some sources [including the World Bank] to be as high as $2-3 trillion, about five or six times South Korea's gross domestic product.

South Korea has a population of 48.6 million with an annual income of $19,200 per capita. North Korea has about 23 million people with a per capita income of $1,400. Were the two countries to reunify, the resulting country would have a combined population of over 70 million, but with an average per capita income of about $13,500. That is, in some sense the cost of reunification to South Koreans could be a one-third reduction in annual income.

The population of East Germany was only a quarter that of West Germany, while the per capita GDP of East Germany was believed by the West in 1991 to be somewhere between two-thirds and three-quarters that of West Germany. By some estimates the East German per capita income turned out to be only a quarter that of West Germany. Thus, the overall burden of Korean reunification might be as much as ten times greater than that of German reunification.

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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 02:34:10 Zulu