ICAS Special Contributions


The OpCon Transfer Reality: Facts and Fantasy

Burwell B. Bell

Institute for Corean-American Studies, Inc.
Email: icas@icasinc.org

Biographic sketch & Links: Burwell B. Bell

[Editor's note: This article is published here as a gift from the author. sjk]

The OpCon Transfer Reality: Facts and Fantasy

by GEN (Ret) USArmy B B Bell*

*ICAS Annual Liberty Award Recipient 2014 and ICAS Liberty Foundation Distinguished Fellow
(www.icasinc.org/bios/bell_bb.html; www.icasinc.org/2014/2014f/2014flib.html)

As a sovereign nation the Republic of Korea has the authority and capability of speeding up OPCON transfer in any way it desires. While this transfer of Operational Control in wartime can be done almost anytime the Republic of Korea desires, the following realities should be considered carefully before any decision is made.

a. If the United States reviews any decision of the Republic of Korea to shift Operational Control of wartime operations to its leadership chain of command and determines that the decision is premature, the United States would very likely place significant restrictions on the employment of U.S. troops on the Korean Peninsula in wartime. If the United States places restrictions on the employment of its troops in wartime due to a premature decision by the Republic of Korea to force OPCON transfer, this would likely fracture the longtime Alliance and put the Korean people at great risk of falling under the north Korean regime. With the full military support of China assured, it is very likely the north Korean military would ultimately defeat Republic of Korean forces in battle, unless the United States is a fully committed Alliance partner.

b. The Republic of Korea has no significant allies who would contribute to its defense with combat troops if hostilities break out, other than the United States. Without the United States, South Korea could very well be facing the north Koreans alone and the north would be fully backed by China and even perhaps Russia.

c. No transfer of OPCON of wartime forces should be pursued by South Korea or the United States as long as north Korea is armed with nuclear Weapons. As long as the United States provides a "nuclear umbrella for the South", OPCON of military forces in combat must remain with the United States. This is the only way to synchronize all elements of combat power which includes the potential requirement for employment of a nuclear strike against the north by the United States should the north first use nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula or anywhere offshore. Deterrence and warfighting capability depends on a strong Alliance between the Republic of Korea and the United States. As long as the north is nuclear armed, the Government of South Korea and the South Korean people should welcome and encourage the United States to remain in command of all military operations in wartime with full consultation and coordination with the South Korean Government.

d. I strongly recommend that the Republic of Korea make a commitment to the Security Alliance with the United States to fully and completely postpone OPCON transfer as long as the north is armed with nuclear weapons. This is the very best way for the Alliance to continue to fully deter the north's ambitions for full dominance of the Korean Peninsula. OPCON transfer in a nuclear environment would be an historic mistake by the proud and heroic people of the Republic of Korea.

February 11, 2021

This page last updated February 11, 2021 rmj