President Moon Jae-in on Thursday said his government aims for the early transfer of full operational control of South Korean troops from the U.S. military.
Speaking at an advance ceremony marking Armed Forces Day, Moon said, “When the South has [wartime operational control], the North will fear us more, and our armed forces will be trusted more. With improved self-esteem, our military will become stronger.”
Moon used the term “takeover” instead of “transfer” of troop control, breaking from the customary terminology of previous presidents.
The Defense Ministry wants wartime troop control to be handed over by the early 2020s rather than the mid-2020s as the last administration planned. According to documents the ministry submitted to Liberty Korea Party lawmaker Kim Hack-yong on Thursday, the government has embarked on a three-stage roadmap.
The first stage until the end of 2018 entails strengthening the South Korean military with greater independence from U.S. military influence. The second stage involves boosting the operational capabilities of the South Korean military. This is when it will set up a new joint command headed by a Korean general rather than the chief of the U.S. Forces Korea.
Current USFK chief Vincent Brooks has already tried to throw a spanner in the works by asking for a halt of talks about the new command, which would uniquely place U.S. forces under a foreign commander in wartime.
The third stage would be the complete handover of operational control of South Korean forces to the new command, which would also take over part of the powers of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It would see a clear division in the roles of South Korean and U.S. military commanders.
The ministry did not set a specific timeline for the third stage but said it will be complete in the early 2020s.