South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Won In-choul (left) and chair of the NATO Military Committee, Adm. Rob Bauer, salute during an honor guard inspection on the JCS compound in central Seoul on Monday, prior to a bilateral meeting. (Joint Chiefs of Staff)
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization seeks to enhance security cooperation with South Korea through “sustained” military exchanges, the chairman of its top military body said Monday, underscoring the significance of “substantive” defense cooperation.
NATO Military Committee Chair Adm. Rob Bauer made a rare trip to South Korea and held respective talks with South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Won In-choul and Defense Minister Suh Wook.
The visit by the NATO Military Committee chief to the country marks only the second time, following the first such trip by then-Chairman Petr Pavel in May 2016.
Gen. Won and Adm. Bauer “discussed the security situation of the Korean Peninsula and the situation in Ukraine and ways to enhance military cooperation between South Korea and NATO” during the meeting in the morning, South Korea’s JCS said in a statement.
Bauer proposed to work together to “further strengthen the South Korea-NATO cooperation through sustained military exchanges,” underscoring that South Korea is an “important global partner of NATO.”
Won also called for “further reinforcing cooperation” between South Korea and NATO as “global security cooperation partners,” expressing his gratitude for NATO’s efforts to improve South Korea-NATO relations.
In addition, the chairman of the NATO Military Committee “extended his gratitude for South Korea’s proactive support” for Ukraine.
Won reiterated that South Korea has “joined the international community’s efforts to maintain international peace and swiftly solve” the crisis in Ukraine as a responsible member.
Both sides also shared the view that “North Korea’s continued nuclear and missile development pose a grave threat to the Korean Peninsula as well as regional security and world peace.”
South Korea’s JCS chairman also asked for NATO’s “continuous cooperation and support for the government’s various efforts for peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula.”
The purpose Bauer’s trip is to “enhance military exchanges between South Korea and NATO,” according to the JCS. The return visit also came after Won paid a call to the NATO Military Committee in Brussels, Belgium, last November.
The Military Committee, the top military body, advises on military policy and strategy to NATO and its Strategic Commanders.
South Korean Defense Minister Suh Wook(left) and chair of the NATO Military Committee Adm. Rob Bauer (Ministry of National Defense)
South Korean Defense Minister Suh Wook and Bauer also exchanged views on “ways to reinforce the South Korea-NATO security cooperation and the security situation on the Korean Peninsula and in the region” at a separate meeting held in the afternoon, the Defense Ministry said in another statement.
During the talks, the chair of the NATO Military Committee took note of the significance of the organization’s bilateral defense cooperation with South Korea.
Bauer said NATO “accords great importance to substantive cooperation with South Korea in the realm of defense,” emphasizing that NATO and South Korea “share core values including peace, democracy and human rights.”
Both sides also assessed that South Korea and NATO have “continuously strengthened mutual cooperation in a wide range of fields such as military exercise, cybersecurity and chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defense” since 2006.
In 2006, South Korea became one of nine “partners across the globe,” or “global partners,” of NATO, cooperating on a discrete basis.
Bauer’s visit is noteworthy given that NATO has sought to boost cooperation with existing Asia-Pacific global partners such as South Korea, Australia, and Japan.
NATO members agreed on the necessity to reinforce partnership with the countries at the NATO Brussels Summit in June 2021 in view of the challenges China and Russia pose to the rule-based international order and institutions and the shift in the global balance of power.
Against that backdrop, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in the same month encouraged NATO to “deepen its cooperation” with South Korea, Australia, Japan and New Zealand.
As part of such efforts, South Korea participated virtually and in person in a NATO Foreign Ministers’ meeting last December and in April.
During Monday’s talks, Bauer also gave a briefing on the security situation in Europe, including the war in Ukraine, expressing his appreciation of South Korea’s “positive contribution” in the process of settling the crisis, the Defense Ministry said.
The South Korean military delivered 1 billion won ($811,000) of nonlethal military supplies including bulletproof helmets, blankets and medical items in March.
But South Korea’s defense minister rejected his Ukrainian counterpart Oleksii Reznikov’s request to provide anti-aircraft weapons during their phone talks on Friday, Defense Ministry spokesperson Boo Seung-chan confirmed Monday during a regular briefing.
Suh elucidated that Seoul has “constraints in providing lethal weapons systems to Ukraine, in light of the country’s security situation and its potential impact on the military’s readiness posture,” according to the spokesperson.