Sejong Digest 2.0 - Issue 22 (October 25 - November 6, 2017)

South Korea Wants Wartime Operational Control of the Military

Leon Whyte

One of South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s early goals for the U.S.-South Korea alliance was obtaining wartime operational control (OPCON) of the South Korean military. Under the current agreement, during wartime, the U.S. Commander of the U.S.-South Korea Combined Forces and United Nation’s Command would take control of South Korean forces. This transfer of command is not automatic; it only happens after the South Korean President agrees to it in the event of war. Until 1990, the U.S. had both peacetime and wartime operational control over the South Korean army.

Since the early 1990s, both countries planned for, then delayed, the transfer of wartime operational control. South Korean President Park Geun-hye and U.S. President Obama agreed to delay the transfer in 2014, for instance. [See full timeline] Left-leaning politicians in South Korea, like President Moon, have traditionally supported the regaining of operational control, framing this issue as a matter of national sovereignty. Conservatives have traditionally been more reluctant to return to having independent operational control, fearing that this would weaken the U.S.-South Korean alliance.

In regards to wartime OPCON, President Moon claimed to “[pursue] the early takeover of wartime operational control,” adding that “When the South has wartime operation control, the North will fear us more, and our armed forces will be trusted more.” South Korea and the U.S. agreed to the condition that South Korea gain greater military capabilities and shoulder more of the defense burden prior to obtaining wartime OPCON. In this regard, President Moon requested permission from the U.S. to build more missiles with greater range and payload capacity and called for a larger military budget at home.

North Korean Hackers Stole U.S.-South Korean War Plans

Jessie Chen

North Korean hackers reportedly stole a large amount of classified data from South Korea in September last year. The data included wartime operational plans drafted by the United States and South Korea and reports submitted to the allies’ senior commanders. North Korea denied this claim and accused South Korea of “fabricating” the claims about cyberattacks. 

A member of the Defense Committee of the South Korean National Assembly, Rhee Cheol-hee, stated that North Korea broke into the Defense Integrated Data Center to steal about 235 gigabytes of  lower-classification confidential documents. South Korea's Ministry of Defense declined to comment on Mr. Rhee’s statement. U.S. Pentagon spokesman Robert Manning also refused to comment. 

The breached data included a “decapitation” plan, Operational Plan 5015, which was rewritten recently in response to growing North Korean nuclear and missile threats. This plan also outlines the South Korean military’s plan to remove the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang in the event of war. The details of the plan remain classified.

Investigators tracked the hackers and learned that they first gained access to the network by providing a computer vaccine service to the South Korean ministry’s computer network. They noted that the IP where the hackers operated the tasks was in Shenyang, China, which some consider to be the North Korean hacker’s operating ground.

President Trump's Upcoming Visit to Asia

Patrick Niceforo

U.S. President Donald J. Trump will meet with South Korean President Moon Jae-in in Seoul on November 7th. In addition to a bilateral summit between the two leaders, President Trump is scheduled to meet with American and South Korean service members and address South Korea’s National Assembly. President Trump and President Moon met earlier this year at the end of June in Washington, DC. Their initial meeting produced assurances on the bilateral alliance and cooperation on North Korea.

A statement from the White House indicates that President Trump’s upcoming visit to Seoul will primarily address maximizing pressure on North Korea, especially in the wake of themissile launch over Japan in September. Another potential topic of discussion during the upcoming summit is the amendment of the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA). Representatives from the United States and South Korea met to discuss the trade deal in special sessions in late August and early October. Both sides agreed that there was a need to amend the trade deal in order improve mutual benefits.

President Trump’s visit to Asia will last from November 3rd to the 14th. In addition to South Korea, he is scheduled to visit and meet with state leaders from Japan, China, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Hawaii. President Trump will also attend events with the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) in Danang, Vietnam and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Manila, Philippines.

This Week in History: Assassination of Park Chung-hee

On October 26, 1979, South Korea’s President Park Chung-hee was assassinated by Kim Jae-kyu, director of the Korean Central Intelligence Agency (KCIA) at a dinner party along with his chief bodyguard, Cha Ji-chul. At the time, his presidency was facing growing civil unrest led by students, workers, and Christian leaders, calling for Park’s resignation. The opposition New Democratic Party, led by Kim Young-sam, also called for his resignation and the restoration of democracy. According to accounts, Kim Jae-kyu shot President Park after killing Cha Ji-chil. Kim Jae-kyu was arrested by the military. Motives for the assassination are still unclear. According to the military’s investigation, Kim resented both President Park’s criticism of his handling of the public demonstrations and Cha Ji-chil’s influence over the President  and plotted his assassination due to fear of being removed. However, recentlyreleased tapes of his interviews during his trial suggest that his motive was to restore democracy to South Korea, which he maintained until his execution. In the aftermath, martial law was declared, Prime Minister Choi Kyu-hah became interim President, and the South Korean military took control over the KCIA. Park Chung-hee was given a state funeral on November 3, for the first time since the republic was established.