Senior U.S. and South Korean officials this week pledged to have a structure set up beginning in 2019 whereby a South Korean four-star general would be in charge of responding to a North Korean attack, with a U.S. four-star as his deputy.
In a joint communique released after a meeting between Defense Secretary James Mattis and his South Korean counterpart, the two countries said:
The Secretary and the Minister signed the Alliance Guiding Principles which were jointly developed to ensure a strong combined defense posture following [wartime operational control] transition. The Secretary and the Minister also signed the revision of the 2015 [Conditions-based OPCON Transition Plan], and committed to cooperate closely to meet the necessary conditions for OPCON transition at an early date. The Secretary and the Minister endorsed the Future Command Memorandum for Record (MFR) updating the 2013 MFR as well as the Terms of Reference for Relationships between the Republic of Korea Joint Chiefs of Staff, United Nations Command, and ROK-U.S. Combined Forces Command. The Secretary and the Minister decided to maintain the current CFC structure and reaffirmed the mutual commitment that the future CFC is to have an ROK four-star general as the Commander and a U.S. four-star general as the Deputy Commander. The two sides are to work toward initial operational capability (IOC) certification of the ROK-led combined defense posture in 2019. In addition, the Secretary and the Minister pledged to determine the specific timing of OPCON transition through regular evaluation and review of progress at the annual SCM and MCM.
Those Alliance Guiding Principles include the following:
As a symbol of the commitment pursuant to the Mutual Defense Treaty, U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) is to continue to be stationed on the Korean Peninsula and firmly fulfill the security commitment to the ROK.
The ROK-U.S. post-OPCON transition Combined Forces Command and its subordinate combined component commands are to be established to deter external aggression and, if deterrence fails, to defend the ROK.
The post-OPCON transition Combined Forces Command is to operate as a separate standing entity, and receive strategic direction and operational guidance from a Military Consultative Committee which receives bilateral guidance from the ROK and the U.S. national command authorities.
The national authorities of the ROK are to appoint a General or an Admiral to serve as the Commander of the post-OPCON transition Combined Forces Command, and the national authorities of the United States are to appoint a General or an Admiral to serve as the deputy commander of the post-OPCON transition Combined Forces Command.
The ROK MND and U.S. DOD are to continue to maintain and support the United Nations Command, which has served the function of preventing armed conflict on the Korean Peninsula, and develop the mutual relationships between the ROK Joint Chiefs of Staff, the post-OPCON transition Combined Forces Command, USFK, and the United Nations Command.
The ROK MND is to continue to develop capabilities to lead the combined defense, while the U.S. DOD provides bridging and enduring capabilities for the defense of the ROK.
The ROK MND is to expand its responsibilities in deterring external aggression, while the U.S. DOD continues to provide extended deterrence.
The ROK MND and U.S. DOD are to engage regularly in consultations even after the transition of wartime operational control in order to strengthen the combined defense posture.