South Korea denies plans to invite Japanese military to UN Command

Japan unable to send forces to Korean Peninsula without consulting Seoul

File photo: UN Command honor guard at Yongsan military base in Seoul, August, 2017

File photo: UN Command honor guard at Yongsan military base in Seoul, August, 2017 (AP photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – The United Nations Command (UNC), led by the U.S., is reportedly looking to include Japan as one of the official members of the international military force.

However, South Korea’s Defense Ministry has expressed opposition to the proposal and denied that such an invitation is under consideration. It has also noted that Japanese forces did not participate in the Korean War and that they could only join the UNC with approval from the Ministry.

The UNC was originally established in 1950 to support South Korea in its conflict with North Korea, and it consists of 18 member states. The military alliance of “sending states” is ostensibly committed to sending troops and assistance to the Korean Peninsula if conflict ever reignites.

Currently, the UNC, under U.S. command, oversees military facilities south of the Korean Peninsula's Demilitarized Zone. The UNC's other main administrative center is the UNC-Rear headquarters, located at the Yokota Air Base near Tokyo, Japan.

According to a report from Korean news agency Yonhap, the UNC has been working on a “revitalization effort” and is looking to recruit more states to join in the event of renewed hostilities in the region.

In the 21st century, Washington may be re-envisioning the UNC as a military alliance to balance the growing influence and potential threat of China in the region. The idea of including Japan in such a military alliance is a sensitive issue that would be met with opposition in Japan as well as in neighboring countries, as Japan’s current constitution, implemented after World War II, forbids Japan from engaging in offensive overseas military operations.

However, current Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party is hoping to change that by amending the Constitution. Many observers would see Japan’s membership in the UNC as one step closer towards such a goal, with South Korea sure to oppose such a development.

For many years, there have been rumors in Korea that the U.S. is negotiating with Seoul to transfer command of the UNC to South Korea’s armed forces, which would likely signal the disbanding of UNC forces. But if Washington is keen to alter the purpose of the UNC and looking to bring Japanese forces aboard, such a transfer of command is likely to be delayed indefinitely.

According to the Korea Herald, a UNC official has responded to the recent reports by referring to the UNC’s recently published annual digest, which states that forces and materials flow “through Japan,” clarifying that Japan has not been considered as a potential “sending state.” The South Korean Ministry of Defense emphasized that Japanese officers “working as staff of the UNC is only possible through consultations with our Defense Ministry.”