Multiple Korean military offiicals have told the JoongAng Ilbo that talks between South Korea and the United States to draw up OPLAN 5015 have been suspended.

OPLAN 5015 would map out a joint South Korean—US military response to an emergency in North Korea following the South Korean military’s reassumption of wartime operational control in 2015. It would replace OPLAN 5027.

Talks on OPLAN 5015 have been underway since 2010. A Korean government official said talks on OPLAN 5015 have been based on the idea that the South Korean military would lead operations and the US military would support them. According to the official, progress had been made, with agreements to include CONPLAN 5029 into OPLAN 5015 and to dispatch 690,000 US troops to Korea in an emergency, but talks had recently been suspended, at least provisionally. CONPLAN 5029—which, mind you, is not an actual OPLAN—maps out scenarios for six contingencies, including the threat of seizure of North Korea’s WMD by hostile forces, regime change in North Korea, civil war in the North, mass defections from North Korea, humanitarian operations in the event of a massive natural disaster, and the seizure of South Korean hostages by North Korea.

Observers are saying that since the suspension of the talks on OPLAN 5015, differences of opinion between South Korea and the United States regarding the military response to last year’s North Korean rocket test and the recent nuclear test have emerged. A Korean government official said that after the sinking of the Cheonan and the shelling of Yeonpyeongdo, the South Korean military requested that plans for preemptive strikes on North Korean nuclear facilities and responses to local provocations be included into OPLAN 5015, but the US military has been reluctant to accept. To the contrary, the United States has emphasized the prevention of escalation in order to stop the Chinese from intervening militarily during a local North Korean provocation. A Korean military official said the South Korean military really wanted to promote last month’s joint drills in the East Sea featuring a US cruiser and a nuclear submarine as a strong response to the North, but a high-ranking American at CFC scotched the idea.

Ditto goes for upcoming anti-submarine drills in the East Sea—Korea wants to open it to the media, but the US military has refused. A researcher at KODEF told the JoongAng Ilbo that the United States had been demanding a strong response to the North Korean nuclear program since the 1993 nuclear crisis, including surgical strikes, but 20 years later, the positions of South Korea and the United States have changed.

Marmot’s Note: I’ve suspected that the United States—already with a lot on its plate in the Middle East—has at times, ahem, cautioned the Lee Myung-bak administration from doing what any other nation would do when so brazenly fucked with doing anything rash. And make no mistake about the “promotion” part—the military has been on PR overdrive since the nuke test. Run a Naver search on South Korea’s missile capabilities to see what I’m talking about. The JoongAng also ran a nice, big, pretty graphic about the South Korean military trying to complete a “kill chain” to preemptively take out North Korea’s nuclear weapon sites.

Here’s the thing, though. I don’t know how much of it is real and how much of it is just talk and/or using the Americans as an excuse for Seoul’s own failure to act. The government feels the need to show the public—well, its supporters in the public, anyway—that it’s “doing something” to respond to North Korea’s nuclear test. It might also want to get the Americans to take a tougher line with the North Koreans and/or the Chinese. Whether Seoul want to go all Israeli on the North Koreans, though, is another matter. I’m pretty certain the outgoing administration wants to respond tougher to localized North Korean provocations, if for no other reason than to get a return on investment on the F-15Ks. I suspect, though, that Cheong Wa Dae has serious doubts about the ROK military’s level of preparedness—see the handling of the Cheonan and a series of other recent embarrassments—and is more comfortable relying on the Americans to play really bad cop. I also suspect that the problems in preparedness are in fact at least partly the fault of said reliance on the Americans, but that’s an irony that won’t be resolved any time soon.

It also goes without saying that public opinion also limits how rough Seoul can play with the North. Sure, it’s true the Americans don’t want to fight Korean War 2.0, but the South Korean public really doesn’t want to fight Korean War 2.0. Even if Seoul did have greater latitude to respond militarily to the North, what could it realistically do? Even before North Korea went nuclear, the Americans gave North Korea a wide berth, so what’s to suggest the South Korean government would be any more sanguine?