By Tara O, East Asia Research Center
Gat is a hat Korean men used to wear during the Chosun Dynasty. It has a large brim with two strings that go around the sides of the face to tie in the middle to secure the hat in its place. According to Kim Il-Sung’s “Gat-Geun Tactic” (41:05), one string represents South Korea’s alliance with the U.S. and the other string represents South Korea’s relations with Japan. By cutting off one string, the hat blows off. Thus, by destroying South Korea’s relations with Japan, South Korea itself crumbles – and that is how North Korea founder Kim Il-Sung describes the Gat-Geun Tactic, which is part of the Kim family regime’s anti-South Korea strategy.
The U.S.-Republic of Korea (ROK) alliance has defended South Korea against external threats, especially threats emanating from North Korea, for almost 70 years.
The U.S. and Japan are also allies, and this alliance is important for regional security. While South Korea and Japan do not have a formal mutual defense treaty, so technically not allies, the relations between the two countries are nevertheless important. Japan plays a crucial role in South Korea’s national defense. In case of contingency or war on the Korean Peninsula, Japan provides seven UN bases, where the UN Sending States’ forces and materials can gather before moving onward to Korea. Beyond the UN bases, the three countries—South Korea, Japan, and the U.S.— working together produce synergy.
It also makes a statement that these countries stand together to protect freedom in the region.
North Korea understands the importance of this trilateral relationship, and wants to break it.
Related: Retired officers warn Seoul against jeopardizing U.S. alliance, November 19, 2019
North Korea’s goal was and continues to be to unify the entire Korean peninsula under its rule. North Korea’s methods, as often highlighted by Col. David Maxwell, are subversion, coercion, blackmail, and force. It cannot sustain its legitimacy as long as a competing system across the border does so much better in the way people live — food availability, medical care, wealth, technology, and freedom. This means the very existence of South Korea is a threat to the Kim family regime’s legitimacy.
The North Korean regime wants to take over South Korea and rule the entire Korean Peninsula. However, it sees an obstacle: the U.S. military presence in South Korea and South Korea’s alliance with the U.S. in general. For North Korea, the answer is to remove U.S. troops from Korea and destroy the alliance. North Korea has made efforts to do that directly and indirectly.
There have been calls to remove the U.S. troops in South Korea by various South Korean groups that often praise North Korea. The majority of the South Korean public, however, support South Korea’s alliance with the U.S.
What else can North Korea do? Focus on Japan. It can try to weaken South Korea-Japan relations by using anti-Japan feelings among South Koreans, maintained by emphasizing historical animosity.
Kim Il-Sung first used the term Gat-Geun Tactic in 1969, when he gave a speech at Kim Jong-Il Political Military University, which trains espionage agents and operatives. Kim Il-Sung emphasized the tactic again in 1972 in his speech during the graduation ceremony at Kim Il-Sung Political University, which trains political officers, who are later assigned to the Korean People’s Army to monitor North Korean military officials.
Hwang Jang-Yop, the most senior North Korean figure to defect to South Korea, also said the North Korean regime is making full use of the Gat-Geun Tactic of weakening the South Korea-U.S. alliance and South Korea-Japan relations as part of its united front tactics.
Given that this is North Korea’s tactic, why did the Moon Jae-In administration announce that it will not renew the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) with Japan, especially when he went to Thailand just last month to sign a GSOMIA with Thailand? It just doesn’t make sense that he would sign a GSOMIA with Thailand, but end the existing one with Japan.
The Blue House claimed that the U.S. understands South Korea’s decision to end GSOMIA with Japan, but the U.S. said there was no seeking of U.S. understanding. National Assemblyman Lee Hae-Chan, Deobureo Minjoo Party (Democratic Party of Korea), said “Even with no GSOMIA, ROK-U.S. alliance relations remain firm, and in fact, are even more important.” However, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressed his “disappointment,” and the Pentagon expressed “strong concern.”
Within South Korea, there are voices of opposition to the Moon Jae-In administration’s decision to withdraw from GSOMIA. A retired generals group (Korea Retired Generals and Admirals Defending the Nation or KORGAD) condemned the “bungled GSOMIA decision and the undiplomatic behavior…deliberately perpetrated by the ill-motivated Moon administration, thus not reflecting the will of most South Korean people. The majority of South Koreans do not support the traitorous decisions initiated by the Moon administration and its cohort.”
Former senior foreign service officers also made a public statement, referring to GSOMIA as an “indispensable fulcrum of the security cooperation between Korea, U.S. and Japan.” They further added, “As for our relations with Japan, our two states are now on the verge of belligerency after the Moon government violated or terminated the 1965 Claims Settlement Agreement, the 2015 Korea-Japan ‘Comfort Women’ Agreement, and most recently, the 2016 GSOMIA. The termination of GSOMIA and the violation of the Treaty on Basic Relations between the Republic of Korea and Japan will undoubtedly undermine the cooperative relations among Korea, the U.S. and Japan, and cripple the Korea-U.S. alliance.” They both called for the Moon administration to renew GSOMIA.
Weakening South Korea’s relations with Japan pleases North Korea and China. It helps with North Korea’s Gat-Geun Tactic and supports China’s “Three No’s,” which include no trilateral security relations among the U.S., South Korea, and Japan. This does not benefit South Korea’s national security or its national interest. There is still time, but not much. South Korea should not fall prey to North Korea’s Gat-Geun Tactic by weakening or severing ties with Japan. South Korea and Japan should repair and strengthen their relations, and the three countries — South Korea, Japan, and the U.S. – should continue to work together to be the bedrock of regional security.