By Kim Eun-jung
WASHINGTON, Oct. 24 (Yonhap) -- A set of agreements between the South Korean and U.S. defense chiefs at their annual talks represents a framework for far-reaching contingency plans against North Korea's diverse threats, from nuclear bombs to cyber attacks.
At the Security Consultative Meeting (SCM), South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin and his American counterpart, Leon Panetta, also updated a vision for the future of the alliance.
The 60-year-old alliance stands at a crucial juncture as the U.S. rebalances towards Asia, and Seoul moves to regain wartime operational control of its troops from Washington in 2015.
Kim and Panetta "reaffirmed the need to advance the military deterrence capabilities of the Alliance in a more practical and concrete manner, and also to improve response readiness in the event of a North Korean provocation," according to a joint statement.
The allies agreed to beef up "tailored deterrence" against North Korea, depending on the provocation.
The measure comes as the type of North Korean attacks is increasingly unpredictable. The secretive communist nation continues to develop nuclear and long-range missile capabilities.
In 2010, it launched a torpedo attack on a South Korean warship and also shelled a border island, killing 50 soldiers and civilians.
The two sides plan to draw up a list of scenarios for a North Korean nuclear attack by 2014 and conduct simulation-based exercises at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, which specializes in U.S. nuclear deterrence, officials said.
South Korea and the U.S. also plan to produce joint operational plans by January to cope with North Korea's guerrilla-style provocations, they added.
Diplomatic sources say the U.S. is concerned that South Korea may launch an impromptu retaliation against a North Korean attack that could escalate into a full-scale conflict.
The allies also decided to begin a joint study of ways to replace the Combined Forces Command (CFC), which has served as a control tower of their actual military partnerships. The CFC will be dismantled when Seoul regains its OPCON at the end of 2015.
Many express worries over possible loopholes in the command structure of joint operations. Some raised the possibility of the creation of a body virtually with the same function but a different name and size.
Kim said his government is considering establishing a joint body under the Joint Chiefs of Staff as South Korean forces will play a leading role and the U.S. troops will support the role after the CFC is dissolved.
"There have been discussions about how to utilize expertise accumulated under the CFC structure even after the transition of wartime OPCON," Kim said in a meeting of reporters. "The issue is how to form a decision making body within the structure of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of South Korea."
Kim said the two sides plan to form a working-group later this year to draft a new model for an alternative joint operation body by the first half of next year.
Meanwhile, the U.S. secretary confirmed that Seoul and Washington are still in consultations over ways to cooperate on missile defense.
South Korea's opposition parties accused Washington of pressing Seoul to join its missile defense network in Northeast Asia.
Suspicions have grown since the U.S. decision last month to allow South Korea to nearly triple its ballistic missile range, up to 800 kilometers.
South Korean military officials have argued that Seoul is pushing for its own missile defense aimed at countering North Korea's attacks singlehandedly.
To strengthen the total missile system, Kim stressed South Korea would establish a "kill chain" to detect, target and destroy North Korean ballistic missiles, which are capable of hitting South Korea, Japan and Guam.
"It is unnecessary to join (the U.S.) missile defense system. I hope there will be no misunderstanding," Kim said. "We need to first beef up defense capabilities in low-range. Still, (the two sides) should cooperate when conducting joint operations using the satellite surveillance systems, which rely mostly on intelligence provided by the U.S."
The missile defense issue is politically sensitive in South Korea. It may emerge as a sticking point in the alliance with the U.S. down the road, observers point out.
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