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A foolish gamble

Aug 06,2019
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Chun Young-gi
The author is a columnist at the JoongAng Ilbo.

The fundamental principle of fighting a war is hitting a weak spot of the enemy with your strength. But our government’s campaign against Japan in the current economic war has some unreliable aspects. The possibility of scrapping the General Security of Military Information Agreement (Gsomia) between the two countries is an example. If Korea scraps the military information-sharing agreement with Japan, Tokyo will suffer, but a larger hole will be created in the security of Korea. There is no military strategy that recommends an attack on an enemy that will lead to a larger loss of your own troops. A desperate measure of self-injury may be advisable in some cases, but only after meticulous calculation showed that the ultimate reward would be larger than the immediate suffering. What will we gain by scrapping the Gsomia?

The possibility of walking away from the pact was made public as an official government stance when Deputy National Security Advisor Kim Hyun-chong said, “We will take comprehensive countermeasures, including reviewing whether it is right to maintain the sharing of sensitive military information” after Japan’s declaration of an economic war by taking Korea off its list of trusted trade partners.

The possibility of scrapping Gsomia was first raised by Rep. Sim Sang-jeung, chairwoman of the Justice Party. Following her remarks, Rep. Kim Jong-dae of the same progressive party said in a recent radio interview, “No significant information has been exchanged between the two countries under the Gsomia. We had no reason to sign the agreement with Japan, but the United States pressured us. Japan is the beneficiary, and the United States is the ultimate beneficiary.”

Such arguments as these seem to be affecting the Moon Jae-in administration’s decision-making. The truth, however, is the opposite. According to data the Ministry of National Defense offered to Rep. Ha Tae-keung of the opposition Bareunmirae Party — serving as a member of the National Defense Committee — Korea and Japan each exchanged 24 pieces of information over the past four years under the agreement.

Korea received one piece of military intelligence from Japan in 2016, 19 pieces in 2017, two in 2018, and two already this year.

In 2017, Japan’s information offerings went up sharply because North Korea staged many provocations, including nuclear tests and short, medium and long-range missile launches, which helped create a security crisis for Korea.

In 2018, the pieces of information exchanged decreased after calm was created among the two Koreas and the United States after the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in February. In 2019, the need for intelligence exchanges grew again after North Korea resumed provocations.

What about the quality of the information Japan offered to Korea? North Korean leader Kim Jong-un bragged about the development of a new type of short-range ballistic missiles on July 25. Due to the irregularity of the missiles’ descent phase, our military authorities needed to revise their ranges twice. A military source said the final conclusion was based on information provided by Japan under the Gsomnia.

In order to closely monitor North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, Japan operates eight spy satellites, six Aegis destroyers and four units of ground radar with 1,000-kilometer (621-mile) ranges, 17 aircraft equipped with the Airborne Early Warning and Control systems (Awacs) and over 110 maritime patrol planes. They cannot be replaced.

Those who support the scrapping of Gsomia say Korea has overwhelming superiority in its intelligence gathering for the new type of North Korean missiles’ ascension phase. Therefore, Japan will suffer serious damage if the Gsomia is scrapped, they insist.

Their argument could be right. But that is why Korea — which has strength in collecting information on the missiles during their ascension phase — and Japan — which has strength in gathering information on the missiles during their descension phase — must cooperate.
If Korea walks away from Gsomia, the decision will not only stop Japan’s offering of military intelligence, but also upset the United States, which has tried to stop the scrapping. In that case, the Korea-U.S. alliance will become an empty shell.

Moreover, Korea will be labelled an untrustworthy nation by the international community, which reneged on three major international agreements with a neighbor — the 1965 Basic Treaty to normalize its relations with Japan, the 2015 agreement to settle the sex slave issue, and finally the Gsomia.

Some claim that the Moon administration’s move is not aimed at walking away from the Gsomia once and for all, but at pressuring Uncle Sam to play a mediating role in the economic war between Korea and Japan. But the repercussions are very serious. Why do we want to gamble with national security? Deputy National Security Advisor Kim must come up with a resolution for mutual survival, not a desperate measure of self-injury.

JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 5, Page 30