Search Results for OPCON

The OPCON Transfer Debate, by Shelley Su

Shelley Su examines the issues surrounding the US transfer of the wartime operational control (OPCON) to the ROK, and assesses the merits of the three positions of the transfer: whether to carry out the OPCON transfer on the initially agreed upon transfer date; to reject the OPCON transfer altogether; or to delay its implementation. She then further examines the reasons why the Obama and Lee administrations chose delay as the best course of action.

Read “The OPCON Transfer Debate,” by Shelley Su.

Shelley Su is a second-year M.A. student at SAIS, concentrating in International Economics and Strategic Studies, and is particularly interested in Taiwan cross-Strait issues, US-China relations, and the two Koreas. She recently completed an internship with the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs at the US Department of State where she worked on political military issues. In summer 2011, she was a contract researcher at the Institute for National Strategic Studies at the National Defense University for their Center for the Study of Chinese Military Affairs doing research on the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy. Previously, she interned at the Center for Strategic & International Studies, the Atlantic Council, and the Taiwan Ministry of Foreign Affairs. She has also served as a program coordinator for the Southeast Asia Studies Program at SAIS. She received her B.A. in political science from the University of California, Berkeley, speaks Chinese, and is currently studying Korean language. On campus, she is an assistant editor for the SAIS Review journal and co-president of the Defense and Intelligence Career club.

Back to the 2011 SAIS U.S.-Korea Yearbook.

U.S.-Korea Security Alliance

Topic Areas:
Introduction | OPCON Transfer | Cheonan


North Korea has undoubtedly been the biggest concern holding the security alliance between the U.S. and South Korea together. The U.S.-ROK Joint Vision statement called the U.S.-ROK Mutual Defense Treaty the “cornerstone of the US-ROK security relationship” and reiterated the U.S. commitment to the defense of South Korea by extending a nuclear umbrella in the event of a North Korean nuclear attack. Moreover, since the Korean War there has been a constant body of American troops stationed in South Korea. This contingent is called the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) and is made up of the Eighth United States Army, Seventh Air Force, Marine Forces Korea, and U.S. Naval Forces Korea. In 2008, the U.S. and South Korea agreed to keep U.S. troop levels at 28, 500. Currently South Korea and the U.S. share control of defense of the country through an integrated U.S.-ROK unit called the Combined Forces Command (CFC), commanded by a U.S. Army General. The longtime duty of the CFC is to deter war, but also has the authority during wartime to defeat external aggression as outlined by the U.S.-ROK Mutual Defense Treaty. However, aside from just a North Korean threat, this security alliance has also faced many social and political tensions between the two parties. In the early 1990s-2000s a number of violent crimes committed by U.S. servicemen against South Korean nationals, a few of whom were prostitutes and others students, made headlines. These cases ignited anti-American sentiments, brought to light agitation over sovereignty issues related to the Status of Forces Agreement, and public demand for troop withdrawal. While such tensions have waned considerably today, these events have left a bad taste in people’s mouths.

For Additional Reading on the Security Alliance:

United States Forces Korea [Official Website]
U.S. Forces Korea/Combined Forces Command Overview
Global Security
A history and overview of the structure of the U.S. Military in Korea.
South Korean Military Introduction
Global Security
A brief history and overview of the evolution of the South Korean military.
Preparing for Future Threats and Regional Challenge: the ROK-U.S. Military Alliance in 2008-2009 [PDF]
Bruce E. Bechtol | KEI Joint U.S.-Korea Academic Studies 2009 Volume 19
Examines the implications of the Lee adminstration’s markedly different policy from previous administrations and how it can ensure its national security either by strengething its own military capacity or furtehr solidifying the ROK-U.S. military alliance.
USFK Realignment and Reduction
Nina Sawyer | SAIS U.S.-Korea Yearbook 2006
Analyzes the realignment and reduction of U.S. forces in South Korea that occured under the Roh Moo-Hyun and Bush administration and examines the motivations of both parties, the history of troop reductions, and the prospects for this shift in the military alliance.
Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA): What is it, and How Has it Been Utilized? [PDF]
Congressional Research Service | Report RL34531
A comprehensive overview of U.S. multilateral and bilateral Status of Forces Agreements. Includes provisions, historical overviews, and a survey of current U.S. SOFAs.
The Status of Forces Agreement
Junghwa Lynn Pyo | SAIS U.S.-Korea Yearbook 2006
The U.S.-ROK Alliance in an Evolving Asia
Momoko Sato | SAIS U.S.-Korea Yearbook 2009
Examines how the emergence of a nascent cooperative atmosphere in East Asia will add new dimensions of possible challenges and strength
Sex Among Allies: Military Prostitution in U.S-Korea Relations
Katharine Moon
This study examines and illuminates how the lives of Korean prostitutes in the 1970s served as the invisible underpinnings to US-Korean military policies at the highest level. (Preview available on Google Books).

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OPCON Transfer

In July 1950 following the outbreak of the Korean War, President Rhee Syngman deferred Operational Control (OPCON) of Korean forces to the United States. In 1978 an U.S.-ROK integrated command structure was established called the Combined Forces Command (CFC), which is headed by a U.S Army General. Since then, peacetime OPCON was transferred back to the ROK in 1994, but wartime OPCON still remains within CFC control. In 2007, then President Roh Moo-Hyun initiated negotiations to complete total OPCON transfer to the ROK. The governments agreed to make this transfer by April 2012 and that two separate but coordinating US and ROK commands would replace the US-ROK CFC. However, in a recent bilateral meeting between President Obama and President Lee it was announced that they would delay OPCON transfer until 2015.

For Additional Reading on OPCON Transfer:

Symposium on OpCon Transfer and Its Implications for the U.S-ROK Alliance (Transcript)
Center for U.S.-Korea Policy and Mansfield Foundation
A transcript of a public symposium on issues surrounding the planned transfer of operational control (OPCON) in 2012 and implications for the U.S.-South Korea alliance. The keynote address was given by South Korean Assemblyman Hwang Jin Haw. Panelists included Bruce Bechtol, Patrick Cronin, Sung-han Kim, and Michael O’Hanlon.
The Opcon Military Command Issue Amidst a Changing Security Environment on the Korean Peninsula
Larry Niksch | Center for U.S.-Korea Policy
Analyzes the implications for OPCON transfer in the context of military capability and the security environment on the penisula.
The U.S. and South Korea: Challenges and Remedies for Wartime Operational Control
Bruce E. Bechtol | Center for U.S-Korea Policy
Addresses the challenges and implications of OPCON transfer.
Delay the Transfer of Troops [PDF]
Victor Cha | Center for Strategic and International Studies
As a member of the Bush administration that concluded the original agreement for 2012 OPCON transfer, Victor Cha revisits the issue and suggests that delaying the transfer might be more desirable due to a changing environment on the peninsula.
Wartime Operation Control
Kate Ousley | SAIS U.S.-Korea Yearbook 2006
An overview of South Korean OPCON history, the process of OPCON transfer negotiations, and logistical details for OPCON transfer.

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Cheonan/North Korea

Today one of the most pressing issues for the security alliance is the March 26, 2010 sinking of the South Korean Navy corvette ‘Cheonan,’ which killed 46 South Korean sailors, and how to address the incident. On May 20, 2010 the South Korean government released the official investigation results of ‘Cheonan’ and concluded that the North Korea was responsible for the sinking. The US expressed full support of the conclusion and reaffirmed it would stand behind South Korea. Since the incident, the U.S. has lead to the way towards harsh sanctions against North Korea and has appointed a special envoy, Bob Einhorn, in charge of implementing North Korean Sanctions. The Cheonan incident of course is only one part of the greater North Korean problem that the U.S-ROK alliance must handle. The greatest concern for the alliance, and the world, is a nuclear North Korea. Six party talks were initiated in 2003 to find a peaceful resolution to the security problem created by North Korea’s nuclear program, but have failed to resolve the issue and were put on haitus when North Korea withdrew in 2009 after UN sanctions were implemented for North Korea’s illegal nuclear launches and experiments.

For Additional Reading on Cheonan:

The Sinking of South Korea’s Naval Vessel
John S. Park | On the Issues April 2010 | USIP Korea Working Group
Park answers some questions regarding the ramifications of the Cheonan incident and the impact on potential Six-Party Talks with North Korea.
On The issues: After the Cheonan Investigation Report: What’s Next?
John S. Park | USIP Korea Working Group
Park answers some questions regarding South Korea’s next steps after the Cheonan report and how other key countries and players may react, and the prospects for resuming the Six-Party Talks on North Korea’s nuclear program.
Aftermath of the Cheonan
Victor Cha | Center for Strategic International Studies
Cha answers some critical questions in a Q&A style format about the aftermath of the Cheonan incident.
No Winners from the Sinking of the Cheonan
Scott Snyder | Council on Foreign Relations | Asia Unbound Blog
An editorial piece on the implications of the Cheonan incident.

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U.S.-Korea Alliance


Security Alliance Economic Cooperation


Historical Background | The Alliance Today and Future Prospects

Historical Background

The US-Korea Alliance has its roots with the very inception of South Korea as a nation-state. Following the end of World War II, the Korean peninsula was divided and occupied by Soviet and U.S. forces. In 1948, the Soviet Union and U.S. turned over power to their respective patron states. When the Korean War broke out the U.S. came to South Korea’s aid against the North Korean invasion. Though the fighting ceased with an armistice in the 1953, the U.S. and South Korea enacted a Mutual Defense Treaty in 1954. This agreement solidified the alliance and guaranteed South Korea U.S. military protection against external threats—undoubtedly focused on North Korea.

As time as its witness, the alliance has grown and transformed. What started off in many ways as a patron-client relationship based on military protection has now evolved into a relationship and alliance that also, “encompasses political, economic, social and cultural cooperation.” Much of this progress stems from South Korea’s rapid industrialization and democratization and its increasing role in the international community. However, with growth and change there are no shortages of obstacles and challenges. This has included clashes and mismatch between changing administrations, dispute over the U.S. military presence, disagreements over how to effectively deal with North Korea, rising public anti-American sentiments, and challenges in trade negotiations. However, the alliance has unmistakably strengthened over the years and will undoubtedly continue to be important.

For Additional Reading on the History of the Alliance:

Two Koreas: A Contemporary History
Don Oberdorfer
A narrative history of Korea’s travails and triumphs over the past three decades. The Two Koreas places the tensions between North and South within a historical context, with a special emphasis on the involvement of outside powers.

(Preview available on Google Books)
Korea’s Place in the Sun: A Modern History
Bruce Cumings
A narrative chronicle of modern Korea focuses on the country’s turbulent twentieth-century history, discussing its 1910 loss of independence, its years under Japanese rule, its division and the Korean War, and its postwar recovery and economic growth.
(Click here for information via Google Books)
One Alliance, Two Lenses: U.S.-Korea Relations in a New Era
Gi-Wook Shin
Examines U.S.-Korea relations in a short but dramatic period (1992-2003) and argues that the two allies have developed different lenses through which they view their relationship. Shin argues that U.S.-ROK relations, linked to the issue of national identity for Koreans, are largely treated as a matter of policy for Americans a difference stemming from each nation’s relative power and role in the international system.
(Preview available on Google Books)
BBC South Korea Timeline
A timeline of historically important events in South Korea beginning in 1945 to the present.
Strategic Posture Review: South Korea
Sun-won Park | Brookings World Politics Review
A review of how South Korea’s strategic security policies have evovled over time and across recent administrations.
U.S.-ROK: The Forgotten Alliance
Kongdan Oh | Brookings Northeast Asia Commentary No.22
Examines the turbulent history of the U.S.-ROK alliance over the past decade and the obstacles that the alliance faces for the future.

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The Alliance Today and Future Prospects

On June 16, 2009 President Obama and President Lee announced the “Joint Vision for the Alliance of the United States of America and the Republic of Korea.” With this statement, the countries reiterated their shared commitment for peace, security, and prosperity in Korea and more broadly in the world—turning their relationship into a global endeavor. Many in the field of Korea-US affairs—including the leaders of the two countries—agree that the alliance has, “never been stronger than it is today.” Some speculate that such harmony stems from the alignment of top strategic objectives between the administrations. Particularly conducive to alliance has been President Lee’s enthusiasm for cooperation with Washington and a hard-lined stance towards North Korea based on a policy of reciprocity and denuclearization. President Obama has also taken great strides to engage Asia and even declared himself “America’s first Pacific president.” The major concerns facing the alliance today are: the ‘Cheonan’ Incident, OPCON transfer, and KORUS FTA ratification.

For Additional Reading on Present and Future Prospects of the Alliance:

Korea-U.S. Relations: Issues for Congress
Congressional Research Service Report RL33567
An overview of the issues facing the Korea-U.S. relationship.
South Korea: Its Domestic Politics and Foreign Policy Outlook
Congressional Research Service Report R40851
An overview of South Korea’s domestic politics and foreign policy and implications for the U.S.
U.S. Policy Toward the Korean Peninsula
CFR Independent Task Force Report No 64
Policy recommendations for the future of U.S. policy towards Korea, mainly focused on the North.
“New Beginnings” in the U.S.-ROK Alliance: Recommendations to the Obama Administration
The Korea Society | Shorenstein APARC Stanford
Policy recommendations to the Obama administration on how to stregthen U.S.-South Korean relations.
ROK-U.S. Alliance Adjusts to New Realities
Samuel Yim | SAIS U.S.-Korea Yearbook 2007
A report on the transformation of the ROK-U.S. alliance through return of wartime OPCON of ROK soldiers and developments in the base relocation plan for the U.S. forces stationed in South Korea.
U.S.-ROK Alliance: Looking Toward the Future
Ting Xu | SAIS U.S.-Korea Yearbook 2007
The Lee Myung-Bak Revolution: Explaining Continuity and Change in South Korea’s Foreign Policy
Alisher Khamidov | SAIS U.S.-Korea Yearbook 2008
An analysis of the changes to South Korea’s foreign policy that occurred when President Lee Myung-bak came to power.
Pursuing a Comprehensive Vision for the U.S.-South Korea Alliance
Scott Snyder | Center for Strategic and International Studies
Recognizing the overlap of many key interests and the potential of a bilateral cooperation between the U.S. and South Korea, Scott Snyder presents policy recommendations for the new administration in order to strengthen the alliance.  

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ROK-U.S. Alliance Adjusts to New Realities, by Samuel Yim

ROK-U.S. Alliance Adjusts to New Realities, by Samuel Yim
Yim, a former U.S. Army officer who served in Korea, reports on the transformation of the ROK-U.S. alliance through return of wartime OPCON of ROK soldiers and developments in the base relocation plan for the U.S. forces stationed in South Korea.

ROK-U.S. Alliance Adjusts to New Realities, by Samuel Yim

ROK-U.S. Alliance Adjusts to New Realities, by Samuel Yim

Yim, a former U.S. Army officer who served in Korea, reports on the transformation of the ROK-U.S. alliance through return of wartime OPCON of ROK soldiers and developments in the base relocation plan for the U.S. forces stationed in South Korea.

2007 U.S.-Korea Yearbook

2007 was a year of extraordinary “big deals” on the Korean peninsula. Following the difficult 2006 that saw North Korea testing its nuclear weapon and difficult negotiations over security and trade issues with Washington, the Republic of Korea (ROK) made remarkable diplomatic breakthroughs on many weighty issues. But these agreements face challenges of ratification or implementation, and much work remains to be done.

The 2nd Edition of the SAIS U.S.-Korea Yearbook covers principal developments, including these “big deals.” The Yearbook is the product of SAIS’s Fall 2007 course, “The Two Koreas: Contemporary Research and Record.” Each chapter was researched and written by SAIS students based on in-depth readings and study. Additionally, as a part of the course, students conducted field research in South Korea, interviewing numerous government officials, think tank scholars, NGO workers, academics and private sector experts.

The 2007 Yearbook is divided into four parts: U.S.-ROK Relations, U.S.-DPRK Relations, Korea in the Region and Korean Politics. Click here to read more »