Renew GsomiaThe South Korea-U.S. alliance is at a crossroads. Ahead of their third negotiation for defense cost-sharing and with the deadline for extending South Korea’s General Security of Military Information Agreement (Gsomia) with Japan fast approaching on Nov. 22, three high-level U.S. officials handling Korean Peninsula issues visited Seoul together. They included James DeHart, chief negotiator for defense cost-sharing with foreign partners, David Stilwell, assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, and Keith Krach, under secretary of state for economic growth, energy security and the environment.
Some security experts say their trip to Seoul is aimed at pressuring South Korea to bear a bigger share of defense costs than before and persuading South Korea to cancel its decision to withdraw from Gsomia with Japan. But other defense analysts link their visit to the need to shore up the South Korea-U.S. alliance. One thing is clear: Their simultaneous trip reflects the graveness of the challenges facing the decades-old alliance.
Cracks in the alliance resulted from policy failures of the Moon Jae-in administration. It tried to use the option of withdrawing from Gsomia to counter Japan’s economic retaliations for our Supreme Court’s rulings last year ordering compensation for forced wartime labor victims. The government ignored the strategic importance of Gsomia because of its inherent anti-Japan feelings and its obsession with North Korea. Although Gsomia is a bilateral pact, it is pivotal for trilateral security cooperation among Seoul, Washington and Tokyo.
A termination of Gsomia will make their joint defense against North Korean missile attacks more difficult. It could even force South Korea to be excluded from U.S. security strategy in Northeast Asia. That’s why security analysts on both sides have raised the possibility of America downsizing or pulling U.S. troops from South Korea. In a recent interview with the Voice of America, Vincent Brooks, former commander of the U.S. Forces Korea and the South Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command, warned that ending Gsomia will damage the framework of the alliance in Northeast Asia.
The Blue House decided to withdraw from Gsomia despite opposition from the ministers of national defense and foreign affairs. Kim Hyun-chong, deputy national security director in the Blue House, reportedly insisted on withdrawing, and Moon sided with him. Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo stressed the need to maintain Gsomia. Moon must change his mind.
JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 7, Page 30