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UN Command denies reports it wants to remain in control

UNC says it has no plans to become an operational command

The United Nations Command flatly denied news reports that it may be seeking exercise control over military activities on the Korean Peninsula after the transfer of wartime operational control to South Korea.

The UNC told The Korea Herald in an email response that its role will remain the same even after the OPCON transfer, and that it has no plans to become an operational command.

“Media reports that the US wants to use the UNC as a means to get around OPCON are unfounded. There is no plan to make UNC an operational command,” the UNC said on Tuesday. “Any suggestions otherwise are patently false.”

(Yonhap)
(Yonhap)

As South Korea and the US work on transfer of wartime OPCON, concerns have been raised that the US is moving to strengthen the UNC in order to maintain its authority over military maneuvers here.

When the two allies conducted the combined military exercise in August and tested the initial operational capability of the South Korean military as the first step for the OPCON transfer, local media outlets reported that the US had demanded UNC’s involvement in management of crisis situations after the transfer.

The UNC said its role will not be changed by the OPCON transfer, and that it would “continue to carry out the terms of the Armistice Agreement and deliver forces to CFC and other South Korean-led commands.“

On reports that the Defense Ministry and the UNC have launched a consultative body to discuss the future role after the OPCON transfer, it said officials from the two sides meet on a regular basis, but no such group has been formally established.

“Staff from the UNC and Korea’s Defense Ministry meet on a regular basis to exchange information and facilitate ongoing conversations on points of difference,” the organization said, without elaborating on the differences.

ROK-US Combined Forces Command is led by a US general -- currently Gen. Robert Abrams -- who also heads the US Forces Korea and the UNC.

After the OPCON transfer, however, a four-star Korean general will become the chief of the CFC and a US commander will serve as the deputy commander.

As the OPCON transfer would ultimately diminish the status of the USFK, observers pointed out that the US would use the US-led UNC to maintain its power.

The “revitalization” campaign that the UNC has been promoting since 2014, has also triggered speculations. As part of the revitalization plan, the UNC has been increasing its staff and has appointed senior officials.

In July 2018, the UNC’s deputy commander post was filled by a non-American officer, Lt. Gen. Wayne Eyre of Canada, for the first time since the command was established, raising speculation that the UNC is attempting to expand its role. In April, Australian Vice Adm. Stuart Mayer succeeded the post.

The UNC maintained that appointing a non-American officer to the post is to separate itself from the CFC and the USFK for it to be more effective as an independent entity, as US officers often had held additional posts in American entities.

By Jo He-rim (herim@heraldcorp.com)
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