South Korea scraps intelligence pact with Japan

Move sends shock waves through region . . . 

South Korea has announced that it is not extending its General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) with Japan. The pact was set to expire tomorrow, and Seoul has been floating the scrapping of the pact as a potential card in its diplomatic spat with Tokyo. Nonetheless, the actual move to terminate the agreement has sent shock waves through the region, and beyond. Seoul explained that the deterioration of relations with Japan over unresolved historical matters and a subsequent export ban, which Tokyo justified on the grounds of national security and erosion of trust, warranted reconsideration of sensitive intelligence sharing.

What is GSOMIA?

The pact was signed in 2016 mainly to monitor North Korea’s missile activities, and it symbolized the resolve of the trilateral alliance of Japan, South Korea, and the U.S. to co-operate closely to deter North Korea. Japan’s radar systems within its maritime and land territories had been instrumental in tracking the trajectory of missiles from North Korea, while Seoul shared intel with Japan through spies and defectors. Even after the start of the current trade spat, Seoul and Tokyo had been exchanging intelligence through GSOMIA. While Japan and South Korea will be able to continue sharing military information through the U.S., the move to scrap the pact may significantly undermine the trilateral alliance’s efforts to deter North Korea, according to security experts.

Security architecture crumbles . . .

Tokyo and Washington reacted immediately to Seoul’s decision. Japan’s foreign minister Kono Taro summoned the Korean ambassador in Tokyo to protest the decision, stating that Seoul has “misread” the regional security environment vis-a-vis the North Korea threat. U.S. Secretary Mike Pompeo, speaking during his visit to Ottawa, said that the U.S. was “disappointed,” and the U.S. Defense Department issued a statement expressing “strong concern and disappointment” over Seoul’s decision to scrap the GSOMIA. It is expected that relations between Japan and South Korea will remain frigid for the foreseeable future, compromising not only military, but also commercial and people-to-people relations.