|Gen. Robert Abrams, commander of the South Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command (CFC), the United States Forces Korea (USFK) and the United Nations Command (UNC), speaks during a press conference to mark his two-year anniversary of leading the three separate commands, at the U.S. Army Garrison Yongsan in Seoul, Friday. Courtesy of South Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command|
By Jung Da-min, Joint Press Corps
There are no signs of any imminent provocations from North Korea that it would test its weapons, Gen. Robert Abrams, commander of the South Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command (CFC), said Friday.
His remark came amid concerns that Pyongyang may conduct military provocations such as a weapons test to draw Washington's attention after the election of Joe Biden as the 46th U.S. president, as it has done in the past.
"We haven't seen any signs that a test is imminent," Abrams, who is also the commander of the United States Forces Korea (USFK) and the United Nations Command (UNC), told reporters during a press conference to mark his two-year anniversary of leading the three separate commands, at CFC headquarters at United States Army Garrison (USAG) Yongsan in Seoul.
But the CFC commander said that the military would need more information before it can speculate whether there will be more missile tests in the future ― next month or January, for example, taking a prudent stance over the matter.
During the last presidential transitional period from late 2016 to early 2017 from the election to the inauguration of 45th U.S. President Donald Trump, North Korea also did not conduct weapons tests for four months, widely seen as a strategic move to refrain from military provocations while estimating the political situation. At the time, South Korean politics also underwent a turbulent period with the impeachment of then-President Park Geun-hye over influence-peddling scandals.
The North Korean regime, however, resumed weapons tests in February 2017, launching a Pukguksong-2 solid-fuel, medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM). U.S.-North Korea relations have since undergone ups and downs with a series of missile launches by North Korea until the historic first U.S.-North Korea summit in Singapore in June 2018.
While North Korea has yet to report on the election of Biden, North Korea watchers said Pyongyang is expected to keep a prudent stance while taking some time to see how the upcoming Biden administration would draw up its North Korea policy.
"I think we are going to have to wait and be patient to get a little bit more information before we can speculate whether there will be another missile test. What I can tell you is we don't see one that is imminent," Abrams said.
'No timeline set for OPCON transfer'
Regarding the feasibility of transferring wartime operational control (OPCON) over the South Korean military from Washington to Seoul by May 2022, as the South Korean government is aiming for, Abrams said he has not heard of such a declarative timeline and 2022 could be "premature," although he would want to avoid commenting on hypothetical situations.
He's "seen a lot of press speculation about a timeline" for transfer of wartime OPCON, "but actually I haven't heard about that," Abrams said. "And secondly even to speculate two years from now I think would be premature. Because we are doing assessments almost continuously and like I said we've got ways to go … It's just inappropriate to speculate."
In fact, negative speculations were already rising over the South Korean government's goal to retake OPCON by 2022 before President Moon Jae-in's five-year term ends in May that year, after this year's joint military exercises between the militaries of South Korea and the U.S. have been scaled down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
To complete the OPCON transfer, the South Korean military should meet three key conditions: acquire key military capabilities to lead the CFC; secure initial response capabilities to counter North Korea's nuclear and missile threats while U.S. forces offer and operate extended deterrence and strategic assets; and guarantee security circumstances on the Korean Peninsula.