The General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) between Japan and South Korea, which came into force on Nov. 23, is of great significance in that the pact ensures that the two countries can share defense intelligence as they face a common threat posed by North Korea's nuclear arms.
Through the accord, Japan can gain information on North Korean missile launches, recorded by South Korean Aegis destroyers on the Yellow Sea, as well as information that Seoul gains from defectors from the North. South Korea, which is hard-pressed to counter North Korea's development of submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), places high expectations on Japan's antisubmarine surveillance capabilities. If the two countries complement each other, they can swiftly make accurate judgments on the security situation surrounding them.
As Japan and South Korea are U.S. allies, Tokyo, Washington and Seoul should in principle cooperate in responding to the threat posed by Pyongyang. As such, it is only natural for Japan and South Korea to strengthen their hitherto inadequate security cooperation.
Under the agreement, Japan and South Korea promise not to leak or use information they obtain from the other for unintended purposes. The accord has been concluded on the assumption that the two countries will hand over confidential information to each other. However, the pact does not obligate the parties to do so.
Japan had earlier signed a GSOMIA with seven countries and international organizations such as the United States and India, while South Korea had concluded such a pact with over 30 countries including Russia.
Tokyo and Seoul attempted to conclude a GSOMIA in 2012, but abandoning the effort shortly before the two countries were to sign the pact due to opposition from the South Korean public. As an alternate solution, the two countries established a system in 2014 to exchange defense intelligence via the United States. However, the bilateral GSOMIA will help speed up the exchange because the accord allows the two countries to directly provide such information to each other.
What is worrisome is that the accord was signed amid political confusion in South Korea triggered by a scandal involving President Park Geun-hye. The president signed the pact as she has a growing sense of crisis over advancements in North Korea's nuclear weapons development. However, she is under fire for going ahead with signing the accord while she has come under pressure to step down.
South Korean opposition parties are criticizing the bilateral GSOMIA for helping Japan become a major military power. Although it is understandable that opposition parties are wary of bilateral security cooperation considering the historical background to the two countries' relations, it is an unreasonable assertion considering the content of the accord,
Concerns have also been raised in South Korea that strengthening its security cooperation with Tokyo and Washington could worsen South Korea's relations with China. At the same time, it must be possible for the three allies to cooperate with China while promoting the three-party collaboration.
The GSOMIA will be automatically renewed annually unless one of the two countries notifies the other that it will scrap the pact. Some opposition party legislators in South Korea are calling for ditching the pact, but cooperation between Japan, the United States and South Korea in sharing defense intelligence should be maintained even if a change of government occurs.
In view of growing uncertainty in East Asia, the usefulness of the agreement will remain unchanged. The Japanese and South Korean governments should enhance their security by cautiously and steadily enforcing the pact. Such efforts will certainly help the agreement take root while gaining understanding from the South Korean public.