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South Korea, NATO seek to further strengthen defense ties

Felix Kim

The defense relationship between South Korea and NATO has grown stronger in recent years as demonstrated by joint land and naval deployments, an official partnership, and numerous policy and technology engagements.

South Korea is an “important global partner of NATO” and shares “core values ​​such as peace, democracy and human rights,” Royal Netherlands Navy Adm. Rob Bauer, chairman of the NATO Military Committee, said during a visit to South Korea in early April 2022. Bauer met with South Korean Defense Minister Suh Wook and Gen. Won In-choul, chairman of the Republic of Korea (ROK) Joint Chiefs of Staff, according to a South Korean Ministry of National Defense news release. (Pictured: South Korean Defense Minister Suh Wook, left, meets with Adm. Rob Bauer, chairman of the NATO Military Committee, in Seoul in April 2022.)

Bauer, who was visiting South Korea to strengthen military exchanges, emphasized the importance of cooperating with like-minded, democratic partners and discussed how NATO and the ROK Armed Forces can improve interoperability, according to a NATO statement. The discussions focused on current and future security concerns, such as weapons of mass destruction and cyber defense, as well as information sharing.

Bauer thanked South Korea for its contributions during the current crisis in Ukraine, which includes providing humanitarian assistance to Ukraine and joining the international community in imposing sanctions on Russia over its invasion of a sovereign nation.

“We are all working to serve a greater good: the protection of freedom and democracy,” Bauer said. “That task — that life goal — forms an invisible bond that transcends wars, generations and even continents.”

Won affirmed ongoing collaboration with NATO and said he hopes for additional support from the 30-member nation political and military alliance for South Korea’s endeavors to bring peace and prosperity to the Korean Peninsula, the National Defense Ministry stated. “Let’s further strengthen cooperation as an international security cooperation partner,” Won said.

Bauer also met with U.S. Army Gen. Paul LaCamera, commander of the United Nations Command, the ROK/U.S. Combined Forces Command and U.S. Forces Korea.

Bauer’s visit followed July and November 2021 visits to the NATO Military Committee by Kyung-Hyup Kim, chairman of the South Korean National Assembly’s Intelligence Committee, and Won, respectively. Both earlier visits also focused on shared security challenges and the Seoul-NATO partnership, according to NATO.

NATO and South Korea began their “progressive engagement” in 2005 and signed an official partnership program in November 2019 that established a framework for cooperation and political discussion. Long-standing priorities include cyber defense and nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

From 2010-13, South Korea led a 470-member civilian-military provincial reconstruction team in Parwan, Afghanistan, as part of the NATO-led international security assistance force. The ROK Navy also has cooperated with NATO in combating piracy in the Gulf of Aden by providing escorts to commercial vessels sailing near the Horn of Africa as part of Operation Ocean Shield from 2009-16.

South Korea is a member of NATO’s Science for Peace and Security Program, which focuses on advanced technologies, counterterrorism, and chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defense. In another joint initiative, South Korean and NATO scientists are developing a sensor-fusion system to detect bombs and other weapons in public spaces.

Felix Kim is a FORUM contributor reporting from Seoul, South Korea.



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