South Korea, the United States, and Japan concluded an agreement on Dec. 29 to share military information regarding North Korea’s nuclear weapon and missile development. The purpose is for South Korea to share its information with the United States before the latter hands it over to Japan, and for Japan’s information to be transferred to South Korea via the United States. The provision of information from the United States to South Korea and Japan cannot be carried out without prior approval of the information provider.
The South Korean government opted for the indirect information exchange to allow for public sentiments toward Japan, while accepting the trilateral security alliance Washington has demanded for a long time at a minimum level. The new agreement can be seen as a set of rules based on the agreements for the exchange of classified military information between South Korea and the United States signed in 1987 and between the United States and Japan in 2007. It is said that the discussion of the agreement started earlier this year, led by the U.S., to replace the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA), which foundered two years ago amid controversy over closed-door talks.
The Ministry of National Defense is expecting that the agreement will be a boon to the quality and quantity of its North Korea-related information in that Japan is currently running advanced satellites and eight Aegis vessels.
However, there are still concerns over the national consensus as well with the conflict between South Korea and Japan lingering all the way since the inauguration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Some experts also point out that the agreement could strengthen the cooperation between the Korean Air and Missile Defense (KAMD) system and the U.S.-Japan MD system to mark the beginning of trilateral missile defense, drive the North to a drastic option and cause a backlash from China and Russia. It is said that the South Korean government limited the scope of the information to be shared to the nuclear weapons and missiles of the North in order to assuage China and Russia in advance.
The type of the agreement is another possible source of controversy. Unlike the information protection agreement between Seoul and Tokyo that miscarried in 2012, the agreement is a memorandum that is effective as international law but does not have to be ratified in the National Assembly.