Japan nears deal with US, South Korea on sharing North Korean intel

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The destroyer USS McCampbell sails in front of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer Takanami during a western Pacific Ocean exercise in March. (Courtesy of Chris Cavagnaro/U.S. Navy)
The destroyer USS McCampbell sails in front of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer Takanami during a western Pacific Ocean exercise in March. (Courtesy of Chris Cavagnaro/U.S. Navy)

Japan nears deal with US, South Korea on sharing North Korean intel

by: The Yomiuri Shimbun | .
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published: December 23, 2014

TOKYO — Japan, the United States and South Korea are putting the finishing touches on a trilateral memorandum of understanding on the sharing and management of classified information about North Korea's missile and nuclear programs, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.

The pact is aimed at strengthening cooperation among Tokyo, Washington and Seoul as they deal with the threat posed by North Korea, though uncertainty remains as to whether final adjustments being made in South Korea will progress smoothly.

According to sources, the memorandum is likely to cover intelligence sharing among the three nations on North Korea's nuclear and missile programs, and how such information should be properly managed to prevent leaks. The accord would differ from a general security of military information agreement (GSOMIA), which sets out rules on the handling of defense secrets. Instead, the envisaged pact will be closer to a gentlemen's agreement, as it will have no legal binding power or obligations.

The United States has separate GSOMIAs with Japan and South Korea. "We expect this will lead to a framework through which Japan and South Korea can share information via the United States, albeit on a limited scale," said a Japanese government source.

Tokyo and Seoul were scheduled to sign a bilateral GSOMIA in 2012, but the accord was scrapped at the last minute due to fierce opposition within South Korea. Since then, the United States has been actively trying to strengthen trilateral defense cooperation with Japan and South Korea. As a result, the defense ministers of the three nations agreed in May to move ahead with the creation of a framework for sharing intelligence.

Ensuing working-level talks have led to the memorandum reaching the point of near-completion.

South Korea's close proximity to North Korea makes it easier for Seoul to obtain information on any ballistic missile launched by Pyongyang soon after the fact. If South Korea were to share such intelligence, Japan would benefit from the ability to swiftly gather information and determine how to respond.

However, opposition to and skepticism of cooperation with Japan on national security issues still remains widespread in South Korea, so upcoming talks could still run into trouble.