If the Alliance Has a Future …

Several new articles give us some idea of what it might look like. The first item is the alliance’s reason for being, part of which involves dealing with life after Kim Jong Il: OPLAN 5029. Back in April 2005 the South Koreans unilaterally pulled out of planning for it for fear of pissing off North Korea. A month later, talks seemed to be on again, but with no word on progress until now.

A government source on Thursday said then-defense minister Yoon Kwang-ung and U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld signed off on the strategic guidelines in October. “Under the strategy, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command will complete CONPLAN 5029 by the end of next year,” the source added. The plan has been controversial between the two nations. North Korea, Seoul fears, will be particularly sensitive about the plan, which prepares for contingencies such as a sudden crisis in North Korea as the Stalinist country suffers tighter international sanctions over its nuclear test. Details of the guidelines have not been released, but they reportedly include ways of handling a seizure of North Korean WMD by hypothetical rebel insurgents and their attempt to take them out of the country, and a mass exodus of North Korean refugees.

The Korea Times has more:

Other contingency situations include a mass defection of North Koreans, a civil war provoked by revolt or coup, South Korean hostages being held in the North following political problems between the two Koreas and natural disasters such as earthquakes and floods, according to defense officials.

Which country’s military would advance into the North and which country would be in charge of the North’s WMDs, including nuclear weapons, are key issues to be worked out, they said.

In the case that WMDs are smuggled out, special forces from the two nations, including U.S. Navy SEALs, would be deployed to North Korea, according to reports.

Yes, those would seem to be good things to work out in advance, say, before the fuel rods are crossing North Hamgyeong province in a truck. But when confronted with real problems, unstatesmanlike politicians “use the force.”

The concept plan, however, has not been developed into a full-fledged operational plan because of the administration’s objection to it.

Early last year, the presidential National Security Council (NSC) demanded that the CFC stop formulating the 5029 CONPLAN. It was worried that the plan could infringe on the country’s sovereignty and that the U.S. military could conduct unilateral military action against the North and cause a full-scale war on the Korean Peninsula.

A military source told The Korea Times that drawing up specific contingency plans against North Korea “will not be so easy” given the allies’ differing views on the Kim Jong-il regime.

“The two sides will try their best to make joint contingency plans in accordance with changing security situations around the peninsula, following the North’s first-ever nuclear test in October,” the source said, asking not to be named. “But scenarios regarding revolt or coup in the regime or civil war would be dealt with in a careful manner because they could provoke neighboring countries as well as the North.”

It’s insane to say that we’re in an actual military alliance that sees us as that kind of a threat to its safety. You can call it a geographic arrangement, or an economic arrangement, but you can’t say that the two countries live in the same reality or perceive their own interests in a mutally consistent way.  It’s also odd that we’re only learning this now. 

Another issue that went conspicuously unresolved at the Rumsfeld-Yoon meeting was the timeline for the handover of wartime operational control, with the United States wanting to do it in 2009, and the Koreans wanting to wait until 2012. Commanding General B.B. Bell is making sure everyone remembers that this is still an issue in need of resolution.

At a breakfast meeting organized by the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry, U.S. Forces Korea Commander Gen. Burwell Bell said a firm date needs to be set to map out subsequent military strategies and secure the necessary budget. Bell hinted that a date for the transfer could be fixed by next summer.

The Koreans may think that the departure of Donald Rumsfeld is a license to drag their feet through the 2008 election season, and that might just be the case. My own view is that, with or without joint planning, the USFK will eventually be pared down to just air and naval components, with only enough ground forces to protect U.S. installations. To that end, the International Herald Tribune talks about the USFK’s air component in the Taepondong age.