Explanation of Operational Control

Courtesy of Tom Coyner, here’s an explanation of what operational control is all about.

The recent Washington Post article is a reasonably good survey of some of the current tensions between Korea and the U.S., specifically over their respective policies toward North Korea and over a number of alliance issues involving the U.S. military presence here. Chief among those at present is the eventual reversion back to Korean authorities of wartime “operational control” (OpCon) over the Korean military. (Peacetime OpCon reverted to Korea in 1994.) Unfortunately, the Post’s reporter mistakenly refers to wartime “command,” thus confusing the issue. OpCon is not command; the latter connotes authority over assignments, promotions, pay, other personnel matters, budgeting, recruitment, training, organization, acquisitions, and a host of other areas. Wartime OpCon consists of deciding how best to use the forces available to the two countries to fight a war together, i.e., “control” of “operations.” That authority currently rests with the U.S. Army four-star general who heads the ROK-U.S. Combined Forces Command (CFC); his deputy is a Korean Army four-star general, and the rest of the CFC staff as well is roughly half Korean and half American. In time of war, the CFC would fight that war according to plans which have been drawn up in a lengthy process by Koreans and Americans working together. The CFC operates according to policies and guidelines determined by both nations’ military and civilian leaders; both sides have a veto in the process. Thus when President Roh Moo-hyun persists, as he does, in portraying the recovery of wartime OpCon in terms of reclaiming Korea’s “sovereignty,” he is grossly misrepresenting the issue, while in the process exploiting Koreans’ xenophobic tendencies with emotional appeals to their nationalistic pride in order to advance his and his cronies’ political interests.

And there’s another good post from the Marmot here.

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