Friday, November 6, 2009

U.S. To Remove N. Korean WMDs in Contingency


SEOUL - U.S. forces in Korea will take charge of securing or eliminating weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) in North Korea when contingency situations occur, even after South Korea takes over wartime operational control (OPCON) of its troops from the United States in 2012, according to Korean and American military officials here.

The plan is part of a newly developed Korea-U.S. operational plan (OPLAN), codenamed 5029, to respond to any type of internal instability in the communist state, they say.

U.S. Gen. Walter Sharp, commander of the ROK-U.S. Combined Forces Command (CFC), confirmed the move. Speaking at a seminar here Oct. 30, the four-star general, who concurrently serves as chief of the U.S. Forces Korea and the U.N. Command, said both militaries agreed that American forces will still spearhead operations to eliminate North Korean WMDs and Marine amphibious assaults after the OPCON transfer on April 17, 2012.

A South Korean CFC commander said that under OPLAN 5029, "either" South Korean and U.S. troops would conduct stabilizing operations in North Korea, such as securing the North's WMDs and nuclear sites, in a flexible manner in case of an emergency.

"There are various case-by-case scenarios in the operational plan," the commander said. "Both troops will conduct contingency operations jointly or independently in accordance with emerging situations. That is, the U.S. military will take charge of WMD elimination works if needed."

Since early last year, the CFC has developed schemes to prepare for the North's internal instabilities by creating a working group for research on WMD elimination capabilities, he said.

OPLAN 5029 outlines specific courses of action to cope with various levels of internal turmoil in the North, such as a mass inflow of North Korean refugees, a civil war provoked by revolt or coup, South Korean hostages being held in North Korea and natural disasters.

Seoul's Joint Chiefs of Staff said, however, neither confirmed nor denied the plan, only saying it has a conceptual plan (CONPLAN) on North Koran contingency situations.

Defense sources and experts see the latest move as a major turnaround from a contingency strategy under the previous, liberal Roh Moo-hyun administration in pursuit of building a "self-reliant" military independent from the U.S. military.

Roh's office wanted its troops to lead almost all operations, including the elimination of WMDs, when Pyongyang becomes embroiled in a domestic crisis or suddenly collapses. It was opposed to developing the CONPLAN, arguing such a plan could infringe on the country's sovereignty and cause a full-scale war on the Korean Peninsula should the U.S. military conduct unilateral action against North Korea.

"I can say the joint contingency plan has shifted to a realistic level," Cha Du-hyeogn, a senior researcher at the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses (KIDA), said.

"We should not be obsessed with the concept of 'leading' and 'supporting.' It's not a matter of sovereignty indeed," Cha said. "The thing is, who has more assets and capabilities required, or who's more trained."

After 2012, South Korean troops are supposed to play a bigger role in national security, but as long as the U.S. military has better surveillance and WMDs capabilities, it's appropriate for the United States to lead the elimination of North Korean WMDs, said the researcher.

Other ways of controlling North Korean WMDs include pressuring the regime to eliminate the weapons itself, enhancing surveillance and reconnaissance on them, and using China's leverage over Pyongyang, he added.

"Some opponents say the U.S. should not be involved in North Korean contingency situations because that's an issue of South and North Korea concern," Cha noted. "That's wrong. The North Korean nuclear and WMD issue has already become a regional or international problem beyond that of the Korean Peninsula."

Bruce Bennett, a senior defense analyst at the Rand Corp., a U.S. non-profit policy think tank, agreed with Cha, referring to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) that prohibits South Korean from possessing nuclear weapons.

"From an international treaty obligation perspective, there are different requirements for elimination of nuclear weapons than there are for elimination of chemical and biological weapons," Bennett said. "That is, the NPT would prohibit the ROK from possession of North Korean nuclear weapons, weapon materials or related technologies. So the United States would be required to take charge of nuclear weapon elimination."

On the other hand, South Korea could take the lead in eliminating North Korea's chemical and biological weapons because North Korea has roughly 100 nuclear sites, any of which could be used to store chemical and biological weapon, and related materials.

"A force of considerable size could be required to secure, search and resolve these sites, plus any other discovered, and move the materials to friendly locations where elimination could be accomplished, especially as long as hostile North Korean forces are controlling or around those sites," the expert wrote in an e-mail interview.

In addition, North Korean nuclear weapon experts would also need to be assembled and secured so that they do not disappear into some other rogue state or non-state group, he said.

"It may take even a large force a very long time to deal with all of these locations. Most of this force would, of necessity, be ROK, though the ROK and United States would have to decide on how to organize it," said Bennett. "But in practice, the battalion and division and corps and Army commanders directing this force would largely be ROKs."

North Korea, which conducted a second nuclear test on May 25, announced Nov. 3 that it had completed a technical process to produce the fuel needed for one or two nuclear explosives, an effort begun in April to backtrack denuclearization actions it pledged in 2007 and 2008.

The announcement came amid reports that Pyongyang and Washington would soon hold bilateral talks, in an apparent North Korean bid to position itself to seek more money, assistance and security guarantees from the United States and other countries involved in the six-way denuclearization framework.

China Factor

Cha and Bennett were disagreed over China's potential intervention in North Korea's WMD issue.

Cha argued China would not quickly move to secure North Korea's WMDs.

"Whether China will intervene militarily in a North Korean crisis or not is up to how South Korea and the U.S. will respond to it," Cha said. "I don't think Beijing will risk its six decades of relationship with Pyongyang carelessly."

China would consider actions only if North Korean leadership loses control over its people and WMDs, or South Korean and U.S. troops take unilateral actions without consent from neighboring powers, he noted.

Bennett gave a different perspective.

"As recognized nuclear powers under the Nonproliferation Treaty, China and Russia could also become involved in eliminating North Korean nuclear weapons and would have interests in doing so," he said. "The ROK and United States may prefer not to have China or Russia play such a role. But in practice, China in particular has forces closer to Yongbyon and likely other sites associated with North Korean nuclear weapons than [do] ROK and U.S. forces."

So unless South Korea and the United States prepare military capabilities to beat the Chinese forces to Yongbyon and related facilities, it will be a Chinese decision as to whether they become involved in North Korean nuclear weapon elimination, he added.

He continued, "Why would China become involved with North Korean weapons of mass destruction? North Korean missiles and other WMD delivery means do not just fly south or east; they could also fly to the North and West. North Korean WMD could thus at some point be used against China."


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