By Nayoon Lee
On November 14th, Han Min-goo, the Minister of National Defense tentatively signed the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) with Japan. Despite the political controversy regarding GSOMIA, which some see as an opportunity to strengthen Korea’s defense and others as drawing too close to an unrepentant Japan, President Park Geun-hye approved the military information sharing agreement on November 22nd. GSOMIA was finally settled on the following day of November 23rd.
GSOMIA was first suggested in June 2012. The purpose of the agreement is to share military information directly between South Korea and Japan. (The current system of the Trilateral Information Sharing Arrangement between the United States, South Korea, and Japan, allows military information to be shared between South Korea and Japan only through the intermediary of the United States.) Under GSOMIA, South Korea is expected to directly provide Japan information gathered near the DMZ, information on high-level North Korean defectors, and underwater detection information gained by submarines. On the other hand, Japan is expected to provide South Korea with information related to the detection of North Korean submarines, pictures and videos gathered by satellites, and information on North Korean missile launches.
Again, in November 2016, the government faced political turmoil in its efforts to implement the GSOMIA with Japan. In the National Assembly members of the opposition expressed severe resistance, suggesting that they would impeach the Minister of the Ministry of National Defense if he signed GSOMIA. However, the GSOMIA was settled despite the opposition party’s threat.
The agreement was controversial with the media as well. The media condemned the signing of the GSOMIA as premature in that there were still fierce counter arguments among the public. The Ministry of the National Defense also signed the agreement privately rather than in public, excluding even photo journalists over concerns that photos could create the wrong impression depending on how they were shot.
Despite opposition, GSOMIA will be beneficial to both countries for several reasons. First of all, the current GSOMIA is based on the principle of reciprocity. The content and the amount of the information shared should be satisfactory enough to meet the needs of both sides. On top of that, Japan has significant military intelligence gathering capabilities. Japan has 5 satellites that have a level of resolution that can capture images of objects as small as 30cm, along with 6 Aegis cruiser that can detect radars and intercept missiles. Japan also has 4 ground radars that have a minimum detectable range of 1000km, 17 early warning aircrafts, and 77 underwater machines that can detect submarines. These are the military defense mechanisms that South Korea is lacking in, and therefore, combined with the principle of reciprocity, will bring beneficial information to South Korea.
Those in favor of GSOMIA also addressed two public misunderstandings. The GSOMIA is not an agreement to provide all the military information that South Korea has indifferently. Each country can choose the information to share or not to share, and if it is considered unnecessary for the other side, the information is not provided. Thus, GSOMIA is not an agreement that will degenerate South Korea to a subject of Japan. Also, the GSOMIA is not the only information sharing agreement for the Korean military. South Korea already has Military Information Agreements with 19 other countries, Information Sharing Arrangements with 14 other countries, and is currently pushing forward an agreement with 11 other countries. The important thing to note here is that among the 19 countries that South Korea already has Military Information Agreements with, the list of countries includes past communist countries, including Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Bulgaria, and Uzbekistan.
Even if it is true that there are a lot of beneficial aspects to the GSOMIA, it might have been better if the Ministry of National Defense could have waited until the political turmoil in South Korea diminishes in order to build public support for the agreement. The GSOMIA with Japan is not only about military defense. It also has to do with the past history between South Korea and Japan, and the public’s sentiment. Direct sharing of military information will be better than current system. However, South Korea can bear with the trilateral arrangement. Settlement of the GSOMIA, while the president was facing the prospect of impeachment, has increased anti-government public opinion. The positive sides of the GSOMIA have to be acknowledged, however, the timing could have been better.
Nayoon Lee is an intern at the Korea Economic Institute of America and a student of the Yonsei University School of Business, Seoul, Korea. The views expressed here are the author’s alone.
Photo from the Republic of Korea’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.