October 8, 2010
A Letter to U.S. President Barack Obama on the Occasion of the Forty-second Annual Korea-U.S. Security Consultative Meeting
Honorable U.S. President Barack Obama:
We respectfully call on the U.S. government to return the right of wartime operational control of the South Korean military to South Korea without delay and actively pursue the conclusion of a Peace Agreement on the Korean peninsula.
Fifty-seven years after the end of the Korean War, the United States, which took wartime operational control of the South Korean military during the war, has yet to return this right to South Korea.
Because the various agreements between the United States and South Korea on the issue of wartime operational control were either concluded under U.S. coercion or were not ratified by the South Korean National Assembly, they have no legal effect.
After the armistice agreement, the Agreed Minutes Relating to Continued Cooperation in Economic and Military Matters (1954) has served as the basis for U.S. exercise of wartime operational control of the South Korean military, but this agreement, too, was concluded under U.S. military and economic coercion.
The decision to delay the return of wartime operational control to South Korea at the U.S.-Korea Summit in June 2012 was also not approved by the South Korean National Assembly.
Even if there were a legal basis for U.S. wartime operational control of the South Korean military, military operational control is a matter of South Korea’s military sovereignty, and as such, the United States should fully return it without precondition and as soon as possible.
Operational control of the military is at the heart of military sovereignty. In the international sphere, the only other nations besides South Korea whose wartime operational control has for so long been in the hands of a foreign power are occupied Iraq and Afghanistan. Richard Stilwell, the former head of the ROK-US Combined Forces Command referred to South Korea’s relinquishment of its wartime operational control “the most remarkable concession of sovereignty in the entire world.” Although South Korea is the fifteenth largest economy in the world, its military relationship to the United States is no different from that of Afghanistan or Iraq.
The United States has taken what is at the heart of South Korea’s military sovereignty, and this is the origin of the resentment that South Koreans feel about the US-ROK alliance. The return of wartime operational control is a necessary step towards equal and reciprocal Korea-U.S. relations.
The return of wartime operational control is also necessary for the conclusion of a Peace Agreement on the Korean peninsula. As long as the United States exercises wartime operational control, South Korea cannot fully exercise its military command, and thus is not in a position to take full responsibility for the restoration and institutionalization of peace on the Korean peninsula. Only with the return of wartime operational control can South Korea be responsible for realizing peace on the Korean peninsula.
Even the South Korean government announced that the transfer of wartime operational control “will have a positive impact towards practical discussion and implementation of military confidence-building measures to be included in a Peace Agreement.” (Ministry of Defense, August 17, 2006)
The transfer of wartime operational control is a precondition for South Korea to become a party to the conclusion of a Peace Agreement. The conclusion of a Peace Agreement on the Korean peninsula to end the Korean War, which has already spanned two generations, is critical to lasting peace not only on the Korean peninsula but the entire region of Northeast Asia and beyond.
The conclusion of Peace Agreement will bring about a decisive turning point towards denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. Ending the Korean War through a Peace Agreement means there will no longer be a need for the hostile posture of the Korea-U.S. alliance against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), or even the Korea-U.S. alliance itself, which has been the main justification for the development and preservation of nuclear weapons by the DPRK.
We therefore respectfully call on the U.S. government – should it sincerely desire denuclearization on the Korean peninsula – to return wartime operational control to South Korea without delay and actively pursue the conclusion of a Peace Agreement on the Korean peninsula.
Nodutdol for Korean Community Development
Solidarity for Peace and Reunification of Korea (SPARK)