In spite of opposition at home, South Korea has decided to reopen talks with Japan on information sharing that have been stalled since 2012. On Oct. 27, South Korean officials announced that finalizing a deal would not take long. If enacted, the General Security of Military Information Agreement would permit Tokyo and Seoul to exchange intelligence on North Korea and perhaps China. It would also mark the first military pact to be made between the two governments since Japan's occupation of Korea ended in 1945.
As of now, South Korea and Japan each have bilateral intelligence-sharing deals with the United States, as well as a trilateral framework set up in 2014 to enable the three to trade information on North Korea's nuclear and missile programs. But Seoul and Tokyo's refusal to cooperate directly has made the process far less efficient than it could be. Should the latest military pact be realized, intelligence exchanges could become much quicker and more comprehensive.
As North Korea makes notable strides in building up its nuclear arsenal, South Korea's need for better intelligence will only grow. On its own, Seoul has relatively limited insight, both visually and electronically, into North Korea's activities. Sharing information with other powers has helped it to overcome those constraints. Moreover, a warmer relationship with Tokyo will ease communication within the U.S.-mediated trilateral mechanism, which until now has been hamstrung by the long-standing feud between South Korea and Japan.
Either way, renewed talks mark another important step toward some form of reconciliation between the longtime rivals as they adjust to new security realities in their region. In the past few months, South Korean and Japanese officials have signaled their willingness to begin resolving several of their decades-old disputes. For instance, Seoul and Tokyo have already signed an agreement laying the issue of South Korean "comfort women" to rest, despite the South Korean public's resistance to the deal.
Nevertheless, considerable obstacles to the military pact remain. South Korean President Park Geun Hye would have to overcome significant popular opposition to the deal, in the twilight of her presidency, at a time when she is already grappling with several corruption scandals. And as Seoul works to gradually bolster its intelligence and defense capabilities, Tokyo and Beijing may increasingly view it with caution.