April 1, 2022
SEOUL – Seoul and Washington have agreed on a planning directive to develop a new operational war plan to address North Korea’s mounting threats and a changing security environment, allowing their militaries to begin the process in earnest.
Chairman of South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Won In-choul and his US counterpart Gen. Mark Milley made the decision during their in-person bilateral meeting held on Wednesday afternoon (local time) at the US Indo-Pacific Command Headquarters, Camp H.M. Smith in Hawaii.
The two approved the Strategic Planning Directive to update the current operation plan or OPLAN 5015 in view of North Korea’s enhancing nuclear and missile capabilities and “changes to the strategic environment,” a South Korean military official, who wished to remain anonymous, said on Thursday.
“The senior military leaders signed the Strategic Planning Directive developed in accordance with the new Strategic Planning Guidance,” a joint statement read.
The announcement came four months after South Korean Defense Minister Suh Wook and US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin initially saw eye to eye on rewriting the existing OPLAN 5015 at the 53rd Security Consultative Meeting held in December.
In their previous joint statement, Seoul and Washington announced they would write new operational war plans reflecting “changes to the strategic environment,” with the aim to “more effectively deter — and as necessary respond to — DPRK threats to the US-ROK Alliance.“
Seoul and Washington officially signed the OPLAN 5015 in 2015. But the war plan was developed based on the Strategic Planning Guidance approved back in 2010.
The South Korean and US defense chiefs in December gave the green light to a new Strategic Planning Guidance, which is the foundation and the initial step for developing a new operational war plan, on the occasion of the Security Consultative Meeting.
A three-stage process of devising the new OPLAN will take years. But Seoul and Washington have completed the second stage by agreeing on the Strategic Planning Directive devised based on the Strategic Planning Guidance.
The South Korea-US Combined Forces Command will begin writing a new war plan on the basis of the Strategic Planning Directive.
The unnamed South Korean military official said Wednesday’s approval means the “official beginning” of developing a new OPLAN.
The South Korean and the US JCS additionally said Wednesday’s bilateral meeting was held to “strengthen Chairman to Chairman communication by discussing ROK-US Alliance issues, and to further enhance the combined defense posture.”
Both sides also “shared their assessments on the recent security situations, and reaffirmed the robustness of the ROK-US Alliance,” the joint statement said.
Tri-CHOD meeting among S.Korea, US, Japan
South Korea’s JCS chairman also met Gen.Milley and Chief of Staff for Japan’s Joint Staff Gen. Koji Yamazaki for a Tri-CHOD (chief of defense) conference held Wednesday morning at the US Indo-Pacific Command Headquarters.
The agenda topics for the trilateral meeting were the security environment on the Korean Peninsula and in the region, “regional security challenges, and the ironclad commitment of the US to defend” both Japan and South Korea.
“The military leaders shared a common understanding on the significance of enhancing regional security through close trilateral cooperation and coordination,” a trilateral joint statement read.
The three also had an extensive discussion on “multilateral cooperation and training in order to enhance the peace and stability in the Free and Open Indo-Pacific region and to expand the security cooperation,” according to the statement.
The senior military leaders “agreed to strengthen the trilateral cooperation to achieve these objectives.”
Another South Korean military official, on condition of anonymity, said Thursday that the three countries have “closely discussed ways to respond to North Korea’s missile threat,” adding that there have been ongoing and “sufficient trilateral security cooperation.”
But the official clarified that the three countries “have never discussed trilateral military exercises” against North Korea’s missile threat, which the Moon Jae-in government considers as one step further from the current South Korea-US-Japan security coordination.
The enhanced and expanded trilateral coordination is a key part of the Biden administration’s Indo-Pacific strategy.
Washington seeks to “cooperate closely through trilateral channels” on North Korea issues and align the three countries’ regional strategies in a trilateral context.
But Seoul, Washington, and Tokyo have not set the date for an in-person trilateral defense ministerial meeting, although they agreed to hold the talks on a mutually determined future date.