Japan, South Korea nurture NATO relationships

Japan, South Korea nurture NATO relationships


The presence of Japan and South Korea at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit in Madrid in late June 2022 marked a significant milestone as the two push to strengthen their partnerships with the military alliance.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida became his country’s first leader to attend a NATO summit as Japan continues its trajectory of expanding cooperation with the transatlantic group. South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol’s attendance at the summit, meanwhile, was accompanied by his administration’s announcement that South Korea will establish a special NATO delegation.

“As part of the efforts, South Korea is talking with NATO about information sharing, combined exercises and joint research to counter emerging security threats,” Kim Sung-han, South Korea’s national security advisor, said, according to The Korea Society.

Analysts cite growing apprehension that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 could have ramifications for the Indo-Pacific as one reason propelling Indo-Pacific nations to grow their NATO relationships. Concerns also remain that the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) attempts to expand its influence could destabilize the region. In light of the PRC’s actions, Japan has increased military cooperation with like-minded European nations to complement its already strong alliance with the United States and partnerships with other Indo-Pacific countries.

“Russia’s invasion violates the peace and order of the world and can never be tolerated,” Kishida said in announcing plans to attend the NATO summit, according to Bloomberg.

Kishida has condemned Russia’s actions against Ukraine, describing them as a war crime.

Strengthening relationships with Indo-Pacific partners is a key aspect of the NATO 2030 agenda. “In today’s complex environment, relations with like-minded partners across the globe are increasingly important to address cross-cutting security issues and global challenges, as well as to defend the rules-based international order,” according to a June 2022 NATO news release, which identified solidifying relationships with Australia, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea as a priority.

“NATO and its Asia-Pacific partners have agreed to step up political dialogue and practical cooperation in several areas, including cyberspace, new technology and countering disinformation,” according to a NATO news release. “Because global challenges demand global solutions, they have also agreed to work more closely together in other areas such as maritime security, climate change and resilience.”

Earlier in June, Standing NATO Maritime Group Two (SNMG2) ships trained with Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force ships in the Mediterranean Sea. Newly commissioned Japanese officers and NATO units conducted maneuvering exercises and personnel exchanges, shared insight into how NATO and Japan operate at sea, “and fostered understanding and interoperability between the units,” according to a U.S. Navy news release.

“We share many of the core values of your Navy — that is why our cooperation is mutually beneficial,” SNMG2 Italian Navy Rear Adm. Mauro Panebianco said, according to the news release. “Japan is one of a number of countries beyond the Euro-Atlantic area with which NATO is developing relations.”

NATO and Japan have engaged in dialogue and cooperation since the early 1990s. NATO and South Korea have engaged since 2005.

“Political dialogue ensures NATO and its Asia-Pacific partners can enhance their mutual situational awareness on security developments in the Euro-Atlantic and Asia-Pacific regions,” according to NATO. “In an era of strategic competition that contests the core principles of international security, NATO must work even more closely with like-minded countries.”

Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi met with NATO officials three weeks before the June summit. Kishi told Royal Netherlands Navy Adm. Rob Bauer, the NATO Military Committee chief, that Japan wants to strengthen ties with Europe and welcomes NATO’s involvement in the Indo-Pacific, The Associated Press reported.

“The security of Europe and Asia are closely intertwined, especially now with the international community facing serious challenges,” Kishi said.

Bauer praised the increasing engagement to tackle shared security challenges. “Japan is NATO’s longest-standing partner from outside the Euro-Atlantic area,” Bauer said, according to a NATO news release. “We share the same values and challenges, which makes us natural partners.”

(Pictured: Adm. Rob Bauer, left, NATO Military Committee chief, and Gen. Koji Yamazaki, chief of the Japanese Defense Ministry’s Joint Staff, hold talks in Tokyo in June 2022.)