The intelligence-sharing arrangement between Japan and South Korea looks set to continue for another year — a welcome development that will ensure the smooth and speedy give and take of vital defense information between the two neighbors and the U.S.
By rule, the General Security of Military Information Agreement is automatically renewed each year on Nov. 23 unless one side gives notice at least 90 days ahead of schedule. Seoul said last year it would leave the pact, but switched its stance at the last minute following pressure from Washington.
This year, Seoul did not notify Tokyo of any cancellation before the deadline on Monday. This was a reasonable decision.
In the four years since the agreement was first signed, the intelligence exchanges it has enabled have contributed to the security of both countries.
The South Korean military is adept at tracking North Korean ballistic missiles from launch through ascent, thanks to the two countries’ geographic proximity, while Japan’s Self-Defense Forces are said to be better at detecting and following the missiles in the descent stage. Combining information from both forces with U.S. military intelligence can create a full picture.
The arrangement is particularly advantageous for Seoul. The SDF’s capabilities in submarine and surface ship detection, for example, are well-regarded by South Korean defense and intelligence officials. Such intelligence is particularly helpful at a time when North-South tensions show no signs of easing following Pyongyang’s destruction in June of a joint liaison office in Kaesong, a key base for economic cooperation.
However, the South Korean government maintains that last year’s notification to exit GSOMIA is not void and that it can do so “at any time.”
It looks as if South Korea wants to keep the threat as a card to play so that Seoul can pressure Japan to scrap tightened restrictions on exports of semiconductor materials.
While there is no doubt strong support for abandoning the intelligence deal among South Korea’s ruling party and its backers, Seoul should refrain from any comments or actions that would create uncertainty for its military and the SDF.
It has only grown more important for Japan and South Korea to work hand in hand as they face North Korea and China. A conflict between two U.S. allies is harmful to both Japan and South Korea, as it would hamper the region’s security strategy.
Meanwhile in Japan, there remains some chilliness toward South Korea within the Defense Ministry and the SDF over a 2018 incident in which a South Korean warship allegedly locked its fire control radar on a Japanese patrol plane. Also, a request that year from Seoul that Tokyo not fly the SDF flag during a joint naval review dampened sentiment.
But Japan and South Korea are neighbors with shared security and economic interests. We hope that the GSOMIA extension serves as a first step toward restoring the relationship to its proper form.