It is a tad bit ironic that this announcement has happened right after the violence from Chinese students on the streets of Seoul:
The Defense Ministry on Monday announced it is working on the details of a comprehensive military cooperation agreement with Japan. A ministry official said in order to upgrade military cooperation between the two countries, which is minimal to date, the two governments are pushing a comprehensive military cooperation agreement to be signed by their defense ministers.
The official said the agreement includes exchange of military personnel and joint search-and-rescue naval exercises in humanitarian causes. The agreement will be the first codified agreement on military cooperation since the end of Japanese colonial rule in Korea. It reflects the Lee Myung-bak administration’s pragmatic policy that aims to open a new era of bilateral relations by stressing future goals over the fraught past. Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda and Lee agreed to forge a more “future-oriented” relationship during Lee’s state visit to Japan earlier this month. [Chosun Ilbo]
This is actually a common sense agreement that has been prevented from happening in past years by nationalist politics in South Korea from the Roh administration. Japan is a major military power in the region that has no territorial ambitions over Korea if you discount the Dokdo nonsense which new Korean President Lee Myung-bak has clearly decided to do.
A defense cooperation agreement works in favor of both countries because it will reduce suspicions about each other and will increase coordination in joint operations. With the ever growing North Korean and Chinese military capabilities it is wise for these two countries to work together in regards to national defense.
However, I think defense cooperation between the two countries can go beyond regional issues. I have always felt that since Japan has a pacifist constitution that conducting joint peacekeeping operations between the two countries could be an area the two countries could work closely together on. For example the Japanese deployed a reconstruction taskforce to southern Iraq and were defended by other allied nations because of the pacifist constitution. If Korea and Japan had a defense cooperation agreement back then, the ROK Army possibly could have worked together with the Japanese by providing security for them while they conducted their reconstruction mission.
Korea could have saved money in such an operation because the cost of setting up the forward operating base could of either been shared or more likely the Japanese picking up the majority of the cost. Compare this to the ROK Army building and entirely funding their own base currently in Kurdistan right now. With cooperating with Japan, Korea could have saved money while still showing their commitment to the US-ROK alliance by deploying troops.
Such an arrangement could be something that could be tried in other areas Korea has peacekeeping troops in such as Lebanon as well. President Lee has said Korea is going to get more involved in global peacekeeping efforts and joint operations with the Japanese may be a good way to go about doing this.