Earlier this week, the Korean War turned 60 years of age. Though the combatants all signed a temporary ceasefire decades ago, the conflict has never actually been ended and the United States has declined, as recently as January to sign a formal peace treaty to end the conflict.
With tens of thousands of US troops still caught up in this quagmire, stationed along the border waiting for the end of the ceasefire and the resumption of hostilities for over half a century, the question of how or indeed if the war will ever end seems as timely as ever, particularly as the US looks at “handover” strategies in Iraq and Afghanistan as a way to end those long (though by no means as long as Korea) conflicts.
There is a handover strategy going on in Korea too, although it would be easy enough to miss as it has happened over the course of generations and still shows no real sign of being completed. Just over 40 years after the ceasefire the US finally agreed to a peacetime handover a operation control of South Korean military forces.
That was 1994, and in 2007 President Bush set up what was supposed to be the timetable for finally completing the handover, pledging to transfer war time control of operations for South Korea’s military to South Korea’s government in April 2012. The pledge was controversial in the Bush cabinet, and already was being spoken of as unlikely to be met at the time it was announced.
And indeed it won’t be met, as President Obama has decided that the handover will be delayed until at least late 2017. Officials are saying that the move is a result of rising tensions with North Korea.
Incredibly enough, Ambassador Jeff Bader said the delay was important because it sends “a clear message of US staying power in the region.” Apparently there were doubts about the US plan to stay in the war 60 years after it began.
It cannot but be noticed that the pledges of US staying power mirror those in Afghanistan, which are behind the Obama Administration’s disavowal of the July 2011 drawdown date in that nation. Perhaps in another 50 or so years, the US will be comfortable with setting a handover date for the Afghan War.