Is South Korea, a U.S. ally, resolved to maintain its trilateral cooperation with Japan and the United States to deter North Korea’s military provocations? Its handling of the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) with Japan is likely to become a test.
U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper held talks with his South Korean counterpart Jeong Kyeong-doo and urged Seoul to reconsider its decision to terminate GSOMIA between Japan and South Korea. If the situation remains unchanged, the agreement will expire on Nov. 23.
At a press conference after their meeting, Esper stressed that GSOMIA is an important tool by which Japan, the United States and South Korea share effective and timely information. He also expressed his view that the expiration of GSOMIA would benefit North Korea and China. His remarks indicate wariness toward the aims of Beijing and Pyongyang to create a rift among Tokyo, Washington and Seoul.
GSOMIA is intended to allow allies and friendly nations to share classified information and analysis about countries hostile to them. This agreement has symbolic significance in enabling the United States’ bilateral alliances with Japan and South Korea to expand into trilateral cooperation. It is reasonable for the United States to strongly call on South Korea to maintain the pact.
The South Korean side kept its position that compromise from Japan is a prerequisite for continuing GSOMIA. South Korea is apparently not aware that it will lose the trust of the United States and their alliance will be seriously undermined if the pact ends up expiring.
South Korea has cited Japan’s removal of it from the list of countries eligible for preferential treatment to simplify export controls as a reason for the termination of GSOMIA. However, Japan took the measure because South Korea’s export management is inappropriate.
It makes no sense that South Korea has linked this issue to GSOMIA. Its decision to terminate GSOMIA should be revoked.
North Korea has continued its nuclear and missile development. It is essential that the United States and South Korea maintain their readiness.
It is a problem that differences between Washington and Seoul have come to light over the necessity of their joint military exercises.
The United States has announced a plan to soon conduct a joint drill by the U.S. and South Korean air forces, which was canceled last year. At the press conference, Esper underscored the need for the military exercise program from the viewpoint of maintaining deterrence.
But Jeong, rather than referring to the significance of exercises, expressed concern that they would have a negative impact on dialogue with North Korea. The administration of South Korean President Moon Jae-in appears to give excessive consideration to North Korea.
Another pending issue between the United States and South Korea is that Washington is calling on Seoul for a significant increase in the financial burden it shoulders for the cost of stationing U.S. troops in South Korea. Esper has stated clearly his country’s intention to seek for not only South Korea but also other allies where U.S. troops are stationed to pay more of such costs.
U.S. President Donald Trump has been frustrated that U.S. allies have excessively relied on U.S. military forces to defend them, while running huge trade surpluses with the United States. Japan also must come up with measures to respond to such U.S. demands.