U.S., S. Korea May Delay Wartime Command Transfer Due to N. Korea WMD Threat

The United States and South Korea on Wednesday said they will weigh whether to delay a plan to cease U.S. wartime control of the South’s troops, a move that comes in reaction to increased fears of North Korea's weapons-of-mass-destruction capabilities, the Associated Press reported.

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and his South Korean counterpart, Kim Kwan-jin, inked an official agreement that also committed their nations to further efforts to deepen the interoperability of their armed forces and to improve their joint planning for handling a feared WMD strike by the North.

South Korea was scheduled to take back wartime command of its troops from the United States in December 2015 but Seoul requested the transfer be postponed following concerns its military was not ready. North Korea's growing unconventional capabilities also factored into the two allies' decision to reconsider the timing of the command transfer.

"Of particular concern are North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile programs, its proliferation activities and its chemical weapons," Hagel said to journalists in Seoul.

"We have taken the issues that our Republic of Korea allies have raised very seriously," the U.S. Defense chief said in commenting on the requested delay.

South Korea's armed forces have "grown stronger, more professional and more capable especially over the past decade," Hagel was quoted by the New York Times as saying.

It is not clear whether the new joint deterrence strategy includes the utilization of all military capabilities to carry out a preemptive attack on North Korea if it is apparent the Kim Jong Un regime is about to carry out a nuclear strike, according to a Reuters report. While some South Korean news organizations reported the strategy would include a preemptive attack option, a high-ranking U.S. Defense official anonymously said it would not.

Seoul and Washington have agreed to increase the ability of their respective antimissile systems to work together in thwarting a North Korean missile attack, the Yonhap News Agency reported.

"We're working with the Republic of Korea on their missile defense system," Hagel said. "These don't have to be identical as long as they are inter-operable. We want systems that work together. ... It involves a lot of command-and-control, which is complicated."

South Korea thus far has declined U.S. requests to join it in establishing a regional ballistic-missile-defense shield that also could involve Japan, preferring instead to focus on improving its domestic antimissile capacities by developing its Korean Air and Missile Defense system. The KAMD system is aimed at thwarting the lower-altitude nonstrategic missile attacks that might come from North Korea, and deliberately is not being designed to pose a challenge to China's own longer-range missile forces.

October 2, 2013
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The United States and South Korea on Wednesday said they will weigh whether to delay a plan to cease U.S. wartime control of the South’s troops, a move that comes in reaction to increased fears of North Korea's weapons-of-mass-destruction capabilities, the Associated Press reported.