South Korea, the United States and Japan are accelerating military cooperation in response to North Korea's nuclear and missile threats.
South Korean Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada met on Sunday on the sidelines of the Shangri-La Dialogue, Asia's top defense meeting, in Singapore, and agreed to activate a missile data sharing mechanism before the end of the year.
Presently, South Korea and Japan each share data bilaterally with the United States. After the mechanism is set up, the three countries will exchange data on North Korea’s missile launches in real-time.
They also agreed to resume maritime interdiction exercises, and regularize anti-submarine warfare exercises and missile defense drills. Military cooperation among the three countries will be leveled up.
It is unavoidable for South Korea, the United States and Japan to strengthen their military cooperation as North Korea keeps upgrading its nuclear and missile capability while clinging together with China and Russia.
Security cooperation must be watertight in a situation where the North carries out missile provocations without hesitation. North Korea fired ballistic missiles on 34 occasions last year and has launched ones on nine occasions so far this year.
South Korea does not possess nuclear weapons. It lacks sufficient capacity to detect North Korea's missile launches and fend them off on its own.
US bases that will give an important rear support to South Korea in an emergency on the Korean Peninsula is in Japan.
The main target of North Korea’s missiles is South Korea. Its missile threat to the US and Japan is incidental. It stands to reason that Seoul should explore every avenue to keep off North Korea's missile threats.
In this situation, trilateral missile data sharing is necessary for South Korea's security.
Recently, though unsuccessfully, North Korea launched a purported space projectile that seemed to be mounted with a military reconnaissance satellite.
Launching a projectile by using long-range ballistic missile technologies violates the United Nations Security Council resolutions against North Korea. A projectile can change into an atomic weapon when installed with a nuclear warhead.
As confrontation between South Korea, the US and Japan on one side and North Korea, China and Russia on the other becomes clear, it becomes increasingly difficult for the UN Security Council to control North Korea's provocations.
The recent council meeting on North Korea's failed launch of a reconnaissance satellite ended with no results due to opposition from China and Russia.
Close cooperation among the three countries is essential to counter North Korea's threats. On the other hand, they must strive to prevent the situation on the Korean Peninsula from getting out of control. Seoul must try to manage it stably.
After the meeting of South Korean, US and Japanese defense ministers, Lee met with his Chinese counterpart and agreed to promote cooperation, though he said in a speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue that some countries were ignoring North Korea's unlawful behavior. China and Russia ignored a US call for the UN Security Council to condemn North Korea for its latest satellite launch.
Washington is moving to revive high-level communication with Beijing, while trying to hold it in check. US National Security adviser Jake Sullivan and China's top diplomat, Wang Yi, met in Vienna, Austria and discussed bilateral issues.
The Group of Seven called for "constructive" ties with China, even while taking aim at Beijing's rights record and territorial claims. It is taking a very balanced approach.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida mentioned his eagerness for high-level bilateral talks with North Korea. Kishida renewed his willingness for direct dialogue with Pyongyang.
South Korea must strengthen military cooperation with the US and Japan to counter North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats, and at the same time it must also watch possible changes in the situation on the Korean Peninsula and brace for them.