[News analysis] The reasons behind Washington’s push for GSOMIA

Posted on : 2019-11-12 16:03 KST Modified on : 2019-11-12 16:03 KST
The US’ Indo-Pacific Strategy requires full participation from S. Korea
The US' Indo-Pacific Strategy
The US' Indo-Pacific Strategy

The US is applying intense pressure on South Korea to extend its General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) with Japan, which is set to end at midnight on Nov. 23. Following visiting US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs David Stilwell’s message stressing GSOMIA’s importance in a meeting last week with South Korean government officials, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper is expected to push forcefully for a GSOMIA extension when he visits Seoul this week to attend a South Korea-US Security Consultative Meeting (SMC) on Nov. 15.

In a Nov. 10 dinner with the leaders of the five major political parties, South Korean President Moon Jae-in signaled that he did not intend to make any hasty concessions without Japan first withdrawing its export controls.

“With something like the GSOMIA issue, it’s a matter of principle,” he stressed.

But Washington appears poised to keep up its pressure and argue for a postponement of the agreement’s termination going forward. Why is the US pushing so hard for a GSOMIA extension? This is impossible to explain without considering the larger picture of its “Indo-Pacific strategy.” GSOMIA is essential for progress in trilateral South Korea-US-Japan military cooperation that is a key component of the US strategy for containing China’s influence.

“The US’ key aim is to get South Korea to participate fully in its Indo-Pacific strategy, and it needs to keep GSOMIA in place and substantially increase [South Korea’s] share of defense costs as part of that,” said Cho Sung-ryul, a research consultant for the Institute for National Security Strategy.

“The US’ demands regarding GSOMIA and defense costs are not its top priority. Washington’s main concern is South Korea’s full-scale participation in its Indo-Pacific strategy,” he argued.

A South Korean government official said, “The reason so many senior US officials are visiting South Korea and campaigning hard for a GSOMIA extension is because GSOMIA is just that important to the Indo-Pacific strategy.”

Indo-Pacific Strategy gives Japan priority over S. Korea

The US’ previous strategy for East Asia positioned the US itself at the center with South Korea, Japan, and Australia acting as “spokes.” Fundamentally, South Korea and Japan were on an equal footing. The Indo-Pacific strategy, in contrast, involves a framework where the US, Japan, India, and Australia form a “quad” hemming China in from all sides, while South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Vietnam, and others are included as lower-level partners.

Under this framework, the US-Japan alliance becomes upgraded to a global alliance. In pushing through security-related legislation, Japan’s Shinzo Abe administration increased its potential for intervention on the Korean Peninsula by concocting the concepts of “situations of major influence” and “existential threat,” with an eye on direct intervention if war breaks out. Under this system, Japan would need to receive initial military information on North Korean nuclear missile launch activity through GSOMIA to attack preemptively in a scenario of imminent armed attack by the North.

GSOMIA canceled but pushed through against under Park admin.

Discussions toward a GSOMIA arrangement between South Korea and Japan first began in October 2010 when the Japanese Foreign Ministry proposed signing GSOMIA and an acquisition and cross-servicing agreement (ACSA) in the wake of North Korea’s long-range space rocket launch and two nuclear tests in April and May 2009. The two sides agreed to sign GSOMIA on June 27, 2012, but while the agreement was approved by the South Korean Cabinet, it ended up being overturned amid negative public opinion and controversy over its secretive pursuit. On Nov. 23, 2016, the Park Geun-hye administration made another push and ultimately forced GSOMIA through.

Within the broader scheme of things, GSOMIA is seen as essential as a military intelligence sharing framework for trilateral missile defense to perform its role as a key axis in the Indo-Pacific strategy targeting China. While the Trilateral Information Sharing Agreement (TISA) with the US only specifies the sharing of information regarding North Korean nuclear missiles, GSOMIA effectively allows for unlimited sharing of all military information.

The US has reportedly demanded that South Korea declare its full-scale participation in the Indo-Pacific Strategy starting with the SCM on Nov. 15 -- insisting that South Korea clearly state its intent to take part in a unified front against China. The pressure to extend GSOMIA also appears poised to reach a fever pitch at the SCM. Washington’s demands for a large increase in South Korea’s share of defense costs also reportedly reflect expenses related to the Indo-Pacific strategy.

Cho Sung-ryul argued, “South Korea needs to first demand a concrete list from the US in terms of how it is supposed to participate in the Indo-Pacific strategy, examining it closely and choosing only those areas that are acceptable.

“And barring a change in attitude from Japan, GSOMIA needs to end according to principle.”

By Park Min-hee, staff reporter

Please direct comments or questions to [english@hani.co.kr]

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