The defense chiefs of the U.S., South Korea and Japan agreed to start a new mechanism to share data on North Korean missile launches.
The agreement, reached in a trilateral meeting between the ministers in Seoul on Sunday, will “facilitate the exchange of real-time missile warning data and improve each country’s ability to monitor missiles” launched by North Korea, according to a Pentagon statement.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has been busy developing new weapons in defiance of international sanctions, including nuclear-capable missiles that could strike the U.S. and its allies in Asia. The country launched a new submarine and has continued its ballistic missile tests this year — the 70th anniversary of the signing of the armistice that ended Korean War fighting — after firing off a record number in 2022.
The mechanism, which is in the final stages of testing, will be fully operational by the end of December, according to the statement. The countries will share the information on a common platform based out of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, allowing them to develop a common picture of North Korean missile launches, according to a senior defense official.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and his South Korean counterpart Shin Won-sik were at the meeting in person, while Japan’s Minister of Defense Minoru Kihara joined by secure video link.
The three sides had previously announced that they were negotiating an agreement on data sharing, but had not finalized a date to begin the project.
They also agreed to develop a multi-year plan for trilateral military exercises in a bid to institutionalize cooperation between the three powers, according to the statement released during a visit to Seoul by Austin.
The U.S. is a treaty ally of both Japan and South Korea, but trilateral cooperation has stumbled in the past over disputes stemming from Tokyo’s 35-year occupation of the Korean Peninsula that ended with Japan’s surrender in World War II. Their relationship has improved recently as a result of leadership changes in South Korea, as well as shared concerns about an increasingly assertive China and North Korea.
The leaders of the three countries held a summit at Camp David, Maryland in August, in which they agreed to bolster defense ties.
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