Leadership: The Big Switch In South Korea




August 28, 2008: South Korea and the U.S. have negotiated the details of how South Korea will take over command of wartime military operations in South Korea. Since 1950, the U.S., in the name of the UN, has been in charge. This will change in 2012, as South Korea becomes master of its own house, militarily, for the first time since 1950. As part of that switch, South Korea had to acquire additional communications capabilities, software and officers (both staff and command) that  enable them to run the entire operation.

To that end, the U.S. and South Korea are running a series of wargames, where the South Koreans can practice being in charge. Everything went better than expected, but many problems were encountered. South Koreans information systems, including databases that did not work well with their American counterparts. In addition to the wargames, there are also political games. Procedures are being worked out to coordinate how the two nations will handle the escalation that would lead to a war. Even if the North Koreans execute the dreaded surprise attack, the two nations have to be on the same page when it comes to mobilizing and moving additional military and diplomatic resources towards the war effort. The South Koreans have to have an idea of what additional forces the U.S. could, or would, provide, and when. The U.S. has to be kept informed of South Korean strategy, because what the South Korean generals do is a matter of life or death for the American forces involved.

The United States has long practiced operating as part of a NATO force in Europe, including having American units subordinate to foreign commanders. During the Cold War, the NATO alliance involved armed forces from over a dozen nations operating together. To make that happen with a minimum of confusion and errors, all NATO members spent decades establishing standards for command, communications, logistics and diplomacy. In South Korea, while there has long been a similar standardization with the U.S., the former subordinates are finding that even more standardization and synchronization is required if South Korea is to switch roles and be in charge. It's not a simple or quick process.


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