Seoul, Japan fix intelligence spat; Is US changing sides in Libya?; Hill’s strong words to lawmakers; Shutdown put off till December; And a but more.

In a stunning last-minute decision, South Korean officials have decided to remain in a key intelligence-sharing agreement with Japan known as the General Security of Military Intelligence Agreement, or GSOMIA. The Associated Press calls the news “a major policy reversal.” Reuters describes it as “a breakthrough after months of frigid relations over their painful wartime history.” And AFP calls it “a huge relief to the United States, which was deeply troubled by the diplomatic spat between its two main allies in the region.”

The change in direction, “announced six hours before the agreement was due to expire, marks a cooling off from a bitter series of disputes over trade, history and security that have seen ties between the Asian neighbors spiral downward to a near-complete diplomatic breakdown,” according to the Wall Street Journal

However, “The decision wasn’t a complete reversal,” a South Korean official said. Instead, the Journal writes, Seoul is viewing the decision as a “temporary rather than a full annual extension and South Korea’s continued participation in the arrangement [which] would depend on Japan’s sincerity toward resolving a dispute over trade.”

Quick background: “Bitter memories of Japan’s brutal colonialisation of Korea between 1910 and 1945 have long cast a dark cloud over bilateral relations,” AFP reports. But in just the past few months “a string of South Korean court rulings ordering Japanese firms to compensate forced labour victims infuriated Japan. Bilateral ties went further into tailspin in July after Tokyo said Seoul was not properly handling sensitive imports, and took the country off a list of nations that enjoyed streamlined export control procedures.” Seoul retaliated “with similar moves targeting Japan, before cancelling the intelligence-sharing pact.”

Perhaps most importantly, the intelligence pact represents “a major symbol of the countries’ three-way security cooperation in the face of North Korea’s nuclear threat and China’s growing influence,” AP writes. 

How South Korea and Japan benefit: The agreement eased Seoul’s “access information gathered by Japan’s intelligence satellites, radar, patrol planes and other high-tech systems, which are critical for analyzing North Korean missile tests and submarines,” according to AP. “For Japan, the agreement with South Korea had value because its military sensors are positioned to detect North Korean launches sooner, and also because of information the country gathers from spies, North Korean defectors and other human sources.”

Said Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe: “Coordination and cooperation between Japan and South Korea, and trilateral cooperation among Japan, the U.S. and South Korea, are extremely important in our response to North Korea. That’s the point we have made repeatedly. I believe South Korea made its decision from such a strategic perspective.” A bit more from the WSJ, here.

Also for South Korea: Pop stars are not exempted from serving in the military, the defense ministry said Thursday (Reuters), referring to members of the hit boy band BTS. “Exempting pop culture artists from military service even though they have made a contribution to the country’s reputation is not in line with the government’s stance to uphold justice and fairness,” the defense ministry’s statement reads. 

For the record, “The defense ministry said fewer than 45 people are exempt from service every year,” Reuters writes. And “South Korea has nearly 600,000 soldiers, most of them conscripted.” More here

North Korean officials are warning the U.S. again today. The country’s vice foreign minister is visiting Moscow where she said, “If the United States does not take corresponding steps so that the chance of diplomacy on the Korean Peninsula disappears, I think the responsibility should lie squarely with the U.S.” That’s what Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Choe Son-Hui told reporters in the Russian capital, according to Seoul’s Yonhap news agency. More here


From Defense One

Trump Officials Meet With Libyan Politician Aligned With Opposition ‘Strongman’ In Potential Policy Shift // Katie Bo Williams, Defense One: US support for the UN-recognized Libyan government is in question after a series of quiet meetings with an enterprising presidential hopeful.

Dear Pope Francis: While You’re in Japan, Call for No First Use / Tom Z. Collina: The pontiff was already planning to call for global nuclear disarmament. Asking the U.S. to adopt a no-first-use policy would make the world a bit safer, faster.

America Hasn’t Always Supported Ukraine Like This // Uri Friedman: For a policy that’s purportedly a pillar of the decades-old international order, military aid to Ukraine is pretty new.

Why Elizabeth Warren’s Foreign Policy Worries America’s Allies // Thomas Wright, The Atlantic: Finding savings in the defense budget is possible, of course, but getting to 11 percent will require real cuts to capabilities.

What to Expect from Congress’ Cyber Strategy Brain Trust  // Jack Corrigan, Nextgov: The Cyberspace Solarium Commission aims to have policy recommendations ready to plug into the next defense authorization bill, Co-Chairman Rep. Mike Gallagher said.

Global Business Brief // Marcus Weisgerber: Live from Austin and Detroit; Exclusive with Army’s No. 2; New CR fears, and more.

Welcome to this Friday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. If you’re not already subscribed, you can do that here. On this day in 1910, a woman later known as British spy “Cynthia” was born in Minneapolis. Her real name was Amy Elizabeth Thorpe, and her work during WWII would yield the following from Cynthia herself: “Wars are not won by respectable methods.”


Government shutdown pushed off to Dec. 20. With just hours to go before the previous temporary spending measure expired, Senators voted 74-20 to continue funding the United States government at last year’s levels until just shy of one-quarter into the current fiscal year. Trump signed the continuing resolution on Thursday afternoon. A 3.1% payraise for troops is among the few changes that the bill enacts. Read on, here.

Two Vance AFB airmen killed in training accident. Both were in a T-38 training jet that apparently collided with another while landing. “TV footage from the scene shows one aircraft upside down on grass near a runway and the second aircraft upright on the tarmac,” Air Force Times reports. The names have not been released. 

In a first, the U.S. sends a Honduran immigrant to Guatemala to pursue his asylum case, AP reports. “Under a July agreement between the U.S. and Guatemala, asylum seekers have to file claims in Guatemala rather than in the United States if they crossed through Guatemala on their way to the U.S. border.” Critics say it’s inhumane to sending asylum seekers violence-plagued Guatemala. “So far this year, 49,000 of Guatemala’s own citizens have been deported from the United States.” Read on, here.
ICYMI: Stephen Miller brought anti-immigrant beliefs to the White House and turned them into policy. The Southern Poverty Law Center obtained some 900 emails between the Trump advisor and the right-wing Breitbart media company, pushing “material he found on at least one website that espouses white nationalist viewpoints, including fringe theories that people of color are trying to engage in ‘white genocide.’” New York Times wrote about it on Nov. 13, here.
How we got here: An earlier New York Times article traced rising anti-immigrant efforts back to George W. Bush’s administration and beyond.

The first female Marine to pass the Basic Reconnaissance Course has earned the 0321 reconnaissance Marine military occupational specialty. Lance Cpl. Alexa Barth “still has a few more training schools to go through before joining her unit at 1st Recon Battalion at Camp Pendleton, California, said Maj. Kendra Motz, spokeswoman for 1st Marine Division. Barth is expected to arrive at her unit late spring 2020,” Military Times reports

The U.S. Army wants 30% more money this year to better recruit America’s youth, according to a Government Accountability Office report (PDF) on Army marketing. (h/t POGO’s Mark Thompson)
Add that to the new ad campaign colors (yellow) and an emphasis on non-combat roles, and you begin to see how the service is trying to bolster its ranks without lowering the numerical requirements for “success.” More from ABC News, here.

The future of veterans: There will be 40% fewer of them by 2045, according to a new report from the American Enterprise Institute, which gathers an assortment of data from the Department of Veterans Affairs and other related sources. 
Other trends: 

  • “Texas will rapidly outpace California and the next 15 states in its veteran population, but San Diego County, California, will have the highest number of veterans, followed by Maricopa County, Arizona, and Bexar County, Texas.” 
  • “By 2024, Missouri and Mississippi no longer rank in the top 15, but Colorado and South Carolina, which do not initially appear, rank 15th and 11th, respectively.”

So what? “The US Census has not captured information on veterans’ status since 2000, nor is it slated to in 2020,” the report’s author, Rebecca Burgess, writes. “This severely throws into question the capacity of Congress, the VA, and state and local governments to plan adequately for the changing needs of American veterans.”
Check out the motion graphics that help tell the story of these changing numbers in the full report, here.

Apropos of nothing: Russian President Vladimir Putin has handed top state awards to the widows of five scientists killed in a mysterious accident while testing what he called an advanced weapon without equal in the world. “The five men died on Aug. 8 in what a senior U.S. State Department official said last month was an accidental nuclear reaction that occurred as the Russians recovered an experimental nuclear-powered cruise missile. Reuters, here.

BTW: ProPublica found more than 50 state-sponsored YouTube channels from countries including Russia, Iran and the U.S. that Google’s video subsidiary failed to flag. 

“Right to repair” laws would help the military. Various manufacturers have been trying to reduce their customers’ ability to fix (or modify) their products, using everything from special screws to copyright law. This affects military gear as well, as recounted by Capt. Elle Ekman, a Marine logistics officer. Writes Ekman in the New York Times: “A few years ago, I was standing in a South Korean field, knee deep in mud, incredulously asking one of my maintenance Marines to tell me again why he couldn’t fix a broken generator…I was stunned when his frustrated reply was, “Because of the warranty, ma’am.” Read on, here

And finally this week: The man who brought us Borat warns Facebook, YouTube and Twitter add up to “the greatest propaganda machine in history.” That’s the sentiment from comedian Sacha Baron Cohen who delivered remarks on freedom, democracy and social media in a 24-minute speech (video here) Thursday after accepting an award from the Anti-Defamation League in New York City. Read over his full remarks over at Deadline, here.
Have a safe weekend, everyone. And we’ll see you again on Monday!

Close [ x ] More from DefenseOne