ABOARD A U.S. MILITARY AIRCRAFT -- U.S. and South Korean defense chiefs discussed the full range of issues confronting the alliance during two days of talks in Seoul, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said on Oct. 28, 2017. .
Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford spoke to reporters after the Security Consultative Meeting in Seoul. The chairman is traveling to Hawaii for the Tri-CHOD (chief of defense) conference among the United States, Japan and South Korea.
During his visit to South Korea, also known as the Republic of Korea, Dunford met with his South Korean counterpart Air Force Gen. Jeong Kyeong-doo at the Military Committee Meeting.
American and South Korean military leaders attend the MCM to chart the way ahead for the alliance, Dunford said. Held each year since 1978, senior military officials gather to discuss what has occurred over the past year and to determine the best ways to move ahead.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and South Korean Minister of National Defense Song Young-moo received the report of the MCM and continued the discussions at the follow on Security Consultative Meeting.
Opportunity for U.S.-South Korea Discussions
The meetings are an annual opportunity for leaders to discuss issues the U.S.-South Korea alliance faces and assess how well the issues are being dealt with, Dunford said. The meetings, he added, also provide both countries the opportunity to plan and look ahead and set milestones.
The U.S. and South Korean military leaders spent a lot of time discussing the transfer of operational control to the South Korean military, Dunford said. No date has been set for the transfer yet, he added.
Currently the commander of Combined Forces Command -- the warfighting command for security on the Korean Peninsula -- is Army Gen. Vincent K. Brooks. He is also the commander of U.S. Forces Korea and the United Nations Command. The general’s chain of command goes to both the U.S. White House and the South Korean president’s Blue House.
South Korea Seeks Increased Security Responsibility
The South Koreans “rightfully seek increased responsibility for their own security,” Dunford said. “If we are committed to an alliance, we are going to want to make sure that we’re involved in the decision making process for the employment of those forces. There’s got to be a framework that addresses what will surely be U.S. considerations for how is operational control affected, how decisions are made and so forth.”
The leaders affirmed a couple of things about operational control, Dunford said. First, he said, there are certain conditions that must be met before the shift can occur.
“We’ve got a very detailed list of what has to be done,” the chairman said. “We will meet those conditions and do it in a way that maintains or improves our overall effectiveness.”
Whatever happens, though, must maintain the bilateral method for making decisions, he said.
“The key thing in any alliance is the transparency that leads to trust,” Dunford said. “Secretary Mattis was quoted the other day saying there are three things that are important in the alliance and they are ‘trust, trust and trust.’”
The bottom line is the alliance must not suffer degradation in combat capability given the nature of the threat, simply to make a change, the chairman said.
“We did talk about ROK capability development, which is associated with OPCON transition -- command and control systems, ballistic missile defense, cyber capabilities,” Dunford said.
Multilateral Approach to Address Threats
The leaders spoke about increasing the multilateral approach to the North Korean threat, the chairman said. One way to increase multilateral cooperation, he said, is through the United Nations Command, which was established in 1950 soon after North Korea invaded the south. Regional nations like Australia, India, Japan and others could potentially participate.
The leaders also talked about enhancing ballistic missile defense capability, and enhancing the information and intelligence-sharing network, Dunford said. They also spoke about improving South Korean command-and-control systems.
“I think it is fair to say, I know I do, all of us have a heightened sense of urgency over the past year-and-a-half and in particular over the past few months,” Dunford said. “We’ve got to make sure that as [South Korea] increases their ballistic missile defense capability, we all have a common picture of the threat so we can integrate our capability to respond. And that applies to BMD, it applies to strike capability, it applies to targeting. If we are going to fight as an alliance we’ve got to be completely interoperable and interoperable in peace time and be able to integrate in combat.”