Seoul’s decision Thursday to restart talks with Tokyo over an intelligence-sharing pact shelved four years ago is good news for the region. Every advance in North Korea’s arsenal—including a possible intercontinental-ballistic-missile test this month—underscores the imperative for South Korea and Japan to bury historical tensions and cooperate on security issues.
This accord would be the first bilateral military agreement between the two countries since 1945, when Japan’s defeat in World War II ended its brutal colonization of the Korean Peninsula. Since then, both countries have grown into mature liberal democracies and U.S. allies, but tensions endure. Their first attempt to complete an intel agreement in 2012 ended with Seoul backing away in response to public outcry an hour before the signing ceremony.
The deal would establish a legal framework for exchanging classified information about a broad range of issues, from nuclear missiles and missile defense to cyber and submarine warfare. This year, North Korea has carried out two nuclear tests, a possible cyberheist from Bangladesh’s central bank and 20 ballistic-missile tests, including its first successful launch from a submarine.
U.S. officials said the North’s latest tests, on Oct. 9 and Oct. 19, involved the midrange Musudan missile, capable of reaching as far as Guam. But this week experts at California’s Middlebury Institute of International Studies revealed evidence that the tests may have involved the KN-08 intercontinental missile, with a potential range of 10,000 kilometers—enough to threaten Los Angeles and Chicago.
North Korea’s advancing capabilities, largely shielded from international pressure by Chinese interference, recently led Seoul to seek deployment of the U.S.-built Thaad missile-defense system, which integrates with radar in Japan and elsewhere. South Korea, Japan and the U.S. also conducted their first trilateral missile-defense drill off Hawaii in June, building on a 2014 pact allowing Seoul and Tokyo to share intelligence through the U.S.
The obvious next step is direct bilateral cooperation, which the U.S. has long supported. The democratic alliance network in Asia will need all the assets it can muster in the years to come.