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General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA)

South Korea informed Japan 22 November 2019 of its decision to suspend its earlier notification to end an intelligence-sharing pact, shortly before it was set to expire. This meant that the General Security of Military Information Agreement, known as GSOMIA, will continue for the time being.

GSOMIA are legally binding international agreements that establish terms for the protection and handling of classified military information provided by either partner to the other. Agreements that handle other types of classified information in addition to classified military information are referred to as General Security of Information Agreements (GSOIAs).

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, on signing of the Japan-ROK General Security of Military Information Agreement Nov. 23, 2016, said "I welcome the approval by the Republic of Korea and Japan of a General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA). The ROK-Japan GSOMIA will enable increased information sharing and strengthen cooperation between our two closest allies in Northeast Asia. By sharing appropriate security information, they will enhance their deterrence posture against North Korean aggression and strengthen their ability to defend against continued missile launches and nuclear tests, both of which are explicitly prohibited by U.N. Security Council resolutions."

Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, Combined Forces Command and U.S. Forces Korea commander, welcomed the GSOMIA signed by the governments of the Republic of Korea and Japan. “I believe this was a courageous decision by both countries that will help me accomplish my mission of defending the Republic of Korea,” said Gen. Brooks.

With South Korea and Japan both being U.S. allies, their militaries have been sharing information under GSOMIA since it was signed. According to Seoul's defense ministry, the two sides have exchanged intel eight times this year alone and 30 times from 2016 through August 2019.

Japan had provided Seoul with data gathered by its satellites regarding North Korea's nuclear weapons and missiles. And for South Korea's part, of its three levels of classified military information, it's been sharing with Japan levels two and three. The U.S. sees GSOMIA as a key element of its trilateral security cooperation with South Korea and Japan aimed at achieving the final, fully, verified denuclearization of North Korea as well as undermining China's influence in Northeast Asia.

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By 2019 it might seem like GSOMIA is not that useful since North Korea is not testing nuclear weapons or long-range missiles but until the complete denuclearization of the North it's imperative that related intel is readily shared. GSOMIA holds symbolic value in bolstering the trilateral security alliance and its termination would have sent the wrong message.

While it's undisputed that GSOMIA is emblematic of the alliance, among military circles its effectiveness is controversial in terms of actual intel sharing. A South Korean military source said highly sensitive information, particularly those related to North Korea's missiles and nuclear weapons, is currently being collected using the strategic assets of the three countries which are then analyzed by the U.S. to be shared with its allies. Compared to this trilateral sharing process, according to the official, direct intel sharing between South Korea and Japan is limited.

The agreement is automatically renewed each year. But in August 2019, South Korea informed Japan of its decision to let the pact expire. It cited Japan's decision to remove South Korea from a list of trading partners entitled to simplified export procedures and other reasons. Tokyo has been urging Seoul to retract its decision to pull out of GSOMIA to avoid sending the wrong signals to North Korea and other nations in the region.

Local media outlets in South Korea cited the Trilateral Information Sharing Arrangement or TISA which was signed in 2014 and includes the U.S. as an intermediary could have been strengthened after the presidential office of Cheong Wa Dae hinted in August that it would use TISA as an alternative to GSOMIA.

One the main advantages GSOMIA holds over TISA, though, is that it's recognized as a treaty and the parties are legally bound to protect the confidential information exchanged whereas TISA is not legally binding and not recognized under international law.

Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper and South Korean National Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo discussed the General Security of Military Information Agreement during the 51st annual Security Consultative Meeting in Seoul, South Korea, Nov. 15, 2019. The South Korean defense minister stressed that the agreement is an important instrument in maintaining trilateral cooperation between the U.S., Japan and South Korea. "In the time that is left on the clock, I hope that Japan and the Republic of Korea can come together in a positive direction," Jeong said through a translator.

"[The agreement] is an effective tool for the United States, Korea and Japan to share timely information, particularly in times of war," Esper said. "Expiration of GSOMIA would have an impact on our effectiveness, so we have urged all sides to sit down to work out their differences. The only ones who benefit from the expiration of GSOMIA and continued friction between Seoul and Tokyo are Pyongyang and Beijing." It is in the interests of North Korea and China to drive a wedge between Japan and South Korea, the defense secretary said, and "that reason alone should be powerful enough for us all to sit down and work together to deal with our common challenges."

The US Senate unanimously passed a resolution reaffirming the significance of the intelligence-sharing pact. US Senators Jim Risch (R-Idaho) and Bob Menendez (D-NJ), chairman and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as well as Senators Jim Inhofe (R-Ok) and Jack Reed (D-RI), chairman and ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, introduced a resolution 20 November 2019 reaffirming the importance of the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) between the Republic of Korea and Japan to U.S. and allied security interests in the Indo-Pacific.

“The United States’ alliances with both Japan and South Korea are indispensable to contending with the shared threats from North Korea, China, and Russia,” said Risch. “These threats are more urgent than ever, making closer bilateral and trilateral cooperation all the more important. The General Security of Military Information Agreement between South Korea and Japan is crucial to our national security and to peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region. I urge South Korea to continue its participation in this agreement.”

“Vital, healthy and robust alliances and partnerships are critical to our success in the world, and no two relationships are more fundamental than those with Japan and the Republic of Korea,” said Menendez. “The current friction between Japan and Korea requires adept and agile diplomacy to resolve. This resolution sends a clear message that America looks to its friends to work together – and work with us – to address these issues appropriately, and to work together to build the architecture that the region needs to benefit our collective security and prosperity, and our common interests and shared values.”

“The military intelligence-sharing agreement between South Korea and Japan, known as GSOMIA, is an instrumental tool in protecting our mutual security interests in the Indo-Pacific, and I am proud to introduce legislation that underscores U.S. support for it,” said Inhofe. “Now, as much as ever, we need strong defense cooperation to counter threats from North Korea and other agitators in the region. In the coming days, as dialogue with Japan continues, I hope the South Korean government will reconsider its decision to withdraw from the agreement.”

“In these uncertain times, closer cooperation and coordination between and among our allies and partners is crucial to maintaining stability in the INDO-PACIFIC. I hope Japan and South Korea will endeavor to overcome their historical differences and continue to work together on important security issues that threaten the region,” said Reed. “The General Security of Military Information Agreement between South Korea and Japan is an important security tool that should not be abandoned and I hope both countries will renew the agreement.”



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