Rumsfeld Arrives in Korea for Security Talks
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
SEOUL, South Korea, Oct. 20, 2005 Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld arrived here today to take part in consultative talks aimed at assessing the U.S.-South Korean military alliance, South Korea's increasing defense capabilities, and the allies' capability to deter aggression from North Korea.
The 37th U.S.-Republic of Korea Security Consultative Meeting, to be hosted Oct. 21 by Yoon Kwang-woong, South Korea's minister of national defense, is expected to be "a sanity check" on the status of agreements already made between the two countries, officials said. These include the redeployment of 12,500 U.S. troops from South Korea and the relocation of Yongsan Garrison from Seoul.
One new issue likely to arise during the one-day session is South Korea's interest in gaining operational control of its military forces during wartime. The country assumed control of its military during peacetime in 1994, but wartime control has remained in U.S. hands since the Korean War.
Army Gen. Leon LaPorte, commander of U.S. Forces Korea, said it's fitting to review decisions made more than five decades ago.
"It's natural to want to go back and review decisions and find out, are they appropriate for today and are they appropriate for the future?" LaPorte said.
LaPorte said the South Koreans are saying, "Let's examine and let's discuss the operational control of forces in a wartime scenario," but have made no specific demands or set any timetable for it to be implemented.
South Korea's interest in taking more responsibility for its own defense is "a natural evolution" that directly reflects the country's increasing military capabilities, he said.
Efforts to help the South Koreans boost those capabilities are moving steadily forward and ahead of the agreed-upon timetable. "We are on plan, (and) the Republic of Korea military is on plan, making great strides," LaPorte said.
Two and a half years ago, the two countries' military leaders identified 10 tactical and operational missions to transfer from U.S. military to Korean military control, including security in the joint security area in Panmunjom, LaPorte explained.
"Why?" he asked rhetorically. "Because the Korean forces are capable of doing those missions. Ten years ago, they had not matured those capabilities. Today they have."
So far, six of those 10 missions have transferred to the Republic of Korea army, and the other four will transfer during the next 12 to 14 months, LaPorte said.
In addition to their country's enhanced capabilities, South Korean military leaders are also expected to discuss their interest in transforming their military "to fit the 21st century" and to increase their defense budget, Rumsfeld told reporters during the flight to Asia.
"From what I have heard about it, they are moving in a direction that makes sense from the standpoint of the Republic of Korea and the peninsula," the secretary said.
Rumsfeld said he fully supports South Korea's effort to pick up the tab for more of its defense bill, particularly because, more than 50 years after the war, the country is enjoying a booming economy.
"It's time for the Republic of Korea to assume a larger role and responsibility" for its defense, the secretary said, calling it "an enormously successful economic power in the world."
Meanwhile, LaPorte reported "a noticeable reduction" in "incidents of provocation" along the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea during the past 12 to 18 months. He was quick, however, to emphasize that this doesn't mean the North Korean threat has diminished, but rather, that "strong deterrence" is helping keep it in check.