Hope for a compromise
The Moon Jae-in administration's decision last week to scrap the General Security of Military Information Agreement (Gsomia) with Japan signifies big changes on our security front. We wonder if the government prepared any measures to address apparent security concerns before taking that risky decision. After expressing deep concerns and disappointment at the unexpected decision by the Moon administration, the U.S. Department of State even raised the issue of the safety of U.S. Forces Korea. "This will make defending Korea more complicated and increase risk to U.S. forces," State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said. The U.S. Embassy in Seoul retweeted that message together with a Korean translation.
Washington's strong disappointment reflects its concerns about the possibility of South Korea's decision shaking the very foundation of the decades-old Korea-U.S.-Japan alliance due to Seoul's growing conflict with Tokyo. The State Department's reaction can translate into a fundamental skepticism about South Korea's credibility as an ally in Northeast Asia after Seoul took the drastic action despite Washington's repeated requests not to.
If Uncle Sam's frustration deepens further, we cannot rule out the possibility of the United States considering a radical revamp of its traditional security policy in Northeast Asia. U.S. security experts are wondering if South Korea is really trying to draw a new Acheson Line, in which South Korea was excluded in the U.S. defense line against the rise of communism in the 1950s. As a result, the United States may demand South Korea share more of its defense costs in negotiations and also send its troops to help U.S. forces in the Strait of Hormuz, South China Sea, and other troubled regions.
In such circumstances, Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon raised the possibility of the Moon administration reconsidering its earlier decision to abandon the Gsomia if Japan retracts its economic retaliations by November, the deadline for renewing the military intelligence-sharing pact. Lee has left open a possibility of withdrawing last week's decision. If the government really took the drastic action of scrapping Gsomia simply as a negotiation gambit, that is wrong. Once a crack appears in an alliance, it can widen.
And yet, we have no other options than doing our best and hoping for compromise for now. To that end, the government must not exacerbate the current row with Japan. The Blue House must not whip up public disgruntlement with Japan. The same applies in reverse to the Shinzo Abe administration.
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