North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). It is a military alliance organization created to contain Russia.
NATO, which would have been active only in Europe during the Cold War, advanced into the Middle East, including Afghanistan, in the wake of the war on terrorism. It is a product of backlash and vigilance against China, which supports Russia.
In line with this, President Yun Seok-yeol also attended the NATO Summit held in Madrid, Spain from the 28th to the 30th of last month.
In this regard, it is pointed out that it is inappropriate to attend the summit of a military alliance organization in a situation that is not an official member state, given the relationship with China and Russia. There are also criticisms of whether cooperation with the Western-oriented military alliance organizations that operate mainly in Europe is beneficial to the national interest.
On the other hand, some objections are raised that it is necessary to attend the NATO summit in order to strengthen global cooperation. Which one is right? The important point is that NATO and the Korean Peninsula have a surprisingly close relationship.
◆ NATO is ‘a distant but close neighbor’
This is a part of the Joint Chiefs of Staff press release containing the results of a meeting with then-Chairman Lee Soon-jin after visiting the Joint Chiefs of Staff by then NATO military chief Petro Pavel, who visited Korea on May 30, 2016. It means that exchanges between Korea and NATO have been taking place for a long time.
According to military authorities, the full-fledged cooperation between Korea and NATO dates back to the visit of then Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon to the NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium in December 2005.
In 2009, a memorandum of understanding on information security was signed, and in 2012, an Individual Partnership Cooperation Program (IPCP) covering fields such as energy security and cyber was signed. A policy council was also held at the political level.
In 2016, the Chairman of the Military Commission, who heads the Military Committee that coordinates and controls NATO’s high-level military policy, visited Korea for the first time. In 2020, we made a phone call due to COVID-19, and last year, Won-cheol Won, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, visited NATO headquarters.
In April, NATO Military Chairman Rob Bauer visited Korea and met Chairman Won. At the time, then Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong also attended the NATO Foreign Ministers’ Meeting.
NATO was an organization that responded to Russian military threats in the Atlantic and continental Europe. However, the form and intensity of the threat has changed since the Cold War.
In China, Russia, and North Korea, hacking attempts are continuing to target European governments and companies. Terrorist attacks by Islamic radicals continue. Maritime security is also an issue, such as the smuggling of nuclear and WMD-related technologies, China’s attempts to seize the South China Sea, and the threat of pirates on maritime traffic routes.
The honeymoon relationship between Russia and China is also something NATO is concerned about. In a situation where relations with the West and Russia have deteriorated significantly due to the Ukraine war, NATO has to be wary of China, which is sympathetic to Russia.
NATO announced in its ‘2022 Strategic Doctrine’ adopted on the 30th of last month for the first time in 12 years, “We will act together responsibly to address the structural challenges China poses to European and Atlantic security.”
NATO strongly criticized China, saying it was “trying to overthrow the international order” using expressions such as ‘coercive policy’, ‘malicious cyber activity’, and ‘confrontational language and information manipulation’.
These problems are difficult to solve from a geopolitical point of view centered on Europe and the Atlantic Ocean. Geographical limitations must be overcome. This is why cooperation with Indo-Pacific countries that have not joined NATO but maintain a similar political and economic system to those of existing member countries is necessary.
Although Korea is a non-NATO member in a situation where relations with the West and Russia and China have deteriorated significantly due to the Ukraine war, South Korea can become a partner capable of close cooperation with NATO along with other non-member countries.
Korea achieved economic development and democracy from the ruins of the Korean War. It also has strong military and cyber capabilities.
It is a country located in the Indo-Pacific, such as Japan, Australia and New Zealand, who were invited to this conference, and is an ally of the United States, NATO’s ‘largest shareholder’. This means that NATO has a reason to point to Korea as a target for cooperation.
Effect on value diplomacy and security on the Korean Peninsula
Strengthening cooperation with NATO could be helpful to South Korea in terms of foreign affairs and security.
Strengthening relations with allies that value the universal values of freedom and human rights provide an opportunity to transcend existing diplomatic constraints.
In Korea’s foreign policy, the proportion of neighboring countries such as the United States was high. Europe is geographically distant and security cooperation was not easy. As a result, diplomatic dependence on specific countries increased.
However, cooperation with countries that share values with Korea across regional boundaries can help break free from geographical restrictions. If you focus on the values you pursue, you can broaden the scope of cooperation.
It has the effect of emphasizing strategic clarity in the international order of ‘Cold War 2.0’, such as the intensifying competition for hegemony between the US and China and the Ukraine war.
Cooperation with NATO helps to strengthen security on the Korean Peninsula.
U.S. forces are mainly deployed in accordance with the Korea-US Mutual Defense Treaty to assist the South Korean military in case of an emergency on the Korean Peninsula. However, some NATO countries that are members of the UN Command, such as the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Greece, Norway, Denmark, Italy and Canada, can also participate in the Korean Peninsula issue.
These countries directly or indirectly helped Korea during the Korean War. After the armistice, officers are dispatched to the UNC to support the maintenance of the armistice system.
It was thanks to the full support of Western countries that Ukraine, which had been invaded by Russia, was able to continue the war to this day. In case of an emergency on the Korean Peninsula, if European countries participating in the UNC along with the United States help Korea militarily and diplomatically, it will help to reduce uncertainty in national security.
In order to achieve such a result, it is necessary to maintain close diplomatic relations in advance. NATO can be a vehicle to promote relations with European countries participating in the UNC.
It is also of some help from a military point of view. Looking at the history of war, Europe has been leading the war in the future. Weapons considered ‘necessities’ in modern warfare, such as tanks, ballistic missiles, bombers, and battleships, were the first to exert their power in Europe.
Recently, Europe is investing heavily in cyber warfare within the framework of NATO. It is predicted that cyber will become the core of war in the future.
The NATO Cyber Defense Center (CCDCOE) in Tallinn, Estonia, is a prime example.
CCDCOE, which was launched in 2008 after the Russian hacking in 2007 paralyzed the Estonian national system, has the best capabilities in the field of cyber security.
The purpose of this activity is to develop cyber operations concepts and doctrines, to improve education and training capabilities for cyber operations planning, and to share cyber operations experiences among member countries.
Since 2010, the multinational cyber training, Locked Shields, has been conducted. In April, about 2,000 people from 33 countries participated in the Locked Shields 2022 training exercise to build a strategic decision-making system against enemy cyber attacks and how to respond to attacks on financial institutions.
In May, Korea became the first Asian country to become a full member of the CCDCOE. Korea has participated in Locked Shields for the past three years. About 70 people from 8 organizations, including the National Intelligence Service, the Ministry of National Defense, and Korea Electric Power Corporation, participated in this Locked Shields 2022 exercise.
In terms of conventional warfare, NATO’s experience can be a reference.
NATO has devised a strategy to prepare for war with Russia, a nuclear power, and has been steadily conducting command post training (CPX) and actual maneuver training (FTX) in accordance with this. Faced with North Korea’s nuclear threat, South Korea can utilize NATO’s experience in areas such as strategies for nuclear weapons to be used in actual combat and missile defense.
However, some point out that while strengthening cooperation with NATO, it is necessary to consider strategies for China and Russia in consideration of dealing with the North Korean nuclear issue and trade.
China has already protested, saying, “Some forces incite NATO to extend their tentacles into the Asia-Pacific region, or oppose the creation of an ‘Asia-Pacific NATO’ under the guise of a military alliance.” Accordingly, finding a balance point to maintain relations with China and Russia is expected to be a task in the future.