Amid concerns that Russia could resort to using nuclear or chemical weapons in its stalled invasion of Ukraine, as well as worries over the ongoing threat posed by North Korea, NATO and South Korean officials in September 2022 discussed strengthening efforts to contain chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) risks.
NATO is “working closely with our partners to address proliferation challenges, arms control and defense against chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats,” Eirini Lemos-Maniati, deputy director of NATO’s Arms Control, Disarmament and WMD [weapons of mass destruction] Non-Proliferation Centre, said during the Seoul Defense Dialogue on September 8. Officials also highlighted CBRN threats in announcing the establishment of South Korea’s diplomatic mission to NATO later that month.
Ahead of the Seoul event, Lemos-Maniati and David van Weel, NATO’s assistant secretary general for emerging security challenges, discussed cooperation on CBRN and disruptive technologies with South Korean senior defense and foreign affairs officials.
“Partnerships are crucial to protect the global commons, enhance our resilience and uphold the rules-based international order,” van Weel said during a session on hybrid warfare. “NATO is committed to strengthening the ties with partners that share the alliance’s values and interests.”
Analysts have raised concerns over Russia’s possible use of nuclear and chemical weapons in Ukraine. In September 2022, Marion Messmer, a senior research fellow at Chatham House, a United Kingdom-based think tank, characterized Russian President Vladimir Putin’s nuclear threats as an attempt to erode European support for Ukraine. However, Messmer acknowledged the heightened risk of WMDs being used in the crisis.
Seoul, meanwhile, has long recognized the CBRN threat posed by North Korea. The South Korean National Defense Ministry established its CBRN Command in 2002 with resources from each branch of the Armed Forces. The command operates the Chemical Defense Research Center, conducts regular drills to prepare the public for possible CBRN attacks, and has trained first responders in South Korea and across the Indo-Pacific and Middle East. (Pictured: Republic of Korea Soldiers prepare for an anti-chemical drill at a subway station in Incheon in August 2022.)
The command also conducts joint training and exercises with its United States counterpart, the 20th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, Explosives Command, the U.S. Army’s primary command for combatting such threats.
In announcing the country’s diplomatic mission to NATO, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol said Seoul would strengthen ties with NATO member nations amid the unpredictable global situation. Before attending the NATO Summit in Madrid in June 2022, Yoon specified that his government and NATO were discussing information sharing, combined exercises and joint research to counter emerging security threats.
South Korea and NATO forged a partnership in 2005, and in 2011, NATO began allowing its alliance partners to open diplomatic missions to the organization, The Korea Herald newspaper reported. South Korea’s ambassador to Belgium, Yoon Soon-gu, will chair the new NATO mission.
Felix Kim is a FORUM contributor reporting from Seoul, South Korea.
IMAGE CREDIT: THE ASSOCIATED PRESS