The most recent crisis on the peninsula underscores the importance of changes to come in the command structure after Communist North Korea declares a "state of war" with South Korea.
The U.S.-led response to North Korea's hostile military posturing in April could be among its last. In December 2015, Washington plans to hand over leadership of the Combined Forces Command (CFC) to Seoul, giving the Republic of Korea full wartime operational control.
And while this has been planned for some time, the U.S. ally may not be fully prepared for the change.
"South Korea has and will assume a larger role for the conventional defense of South Korea but remains reliant on the U.S. and the alliance with Washington for complete deterrence," Heritage Foundational analyst Bruce Klingner told Bloomberg.com in April. "There are always shortcomings and room for improvement for the South Korean military."
The 2007 agreement that calls for the change in command has been tweaked through the years. Washington and Seoul had planned to transfer operational control of the CFC-comprising ROK and U.S. troops under command of an American- in April 2012.
But after North Korean artillery shelled Yeonpyeong Island in November 2010, the U.S. and South Korea pushed back the date to December 2015.
Originally, the CFC, established in 1978, was to dissolve with the military handover. But after the latest round of saber rattling by North Korea's new 30-year-old dictator, the CFC will not only be retained but expanded.
In early April, the South Korean newspaper The Chosun Ubo reported that Washington and Seoul want the CFC to be "a bigger joint command structure to strengthen cooperation." But the report did not provide any more details.
That continued U.S. alliance is needed. The North's army of 1.2 million is nearly double that of the South's 639,000. So when North Korea made an official announcement March 5 declaring that the two nations were in a "state of war," South Korean officials didn't take it lightly.
South Korean President Park Geun-hye said her country's military would "make a strong and swift response in initial combat without any political considerations."
Kim Yong-hyun, a senior official in Seoul's Joint Chiefs of Staff office, added that "our military will strongly and sternly retaliate by striking not only the origin of provocations but also its supporting unit and its commanding forces. …