Nato's chief urges South Korea to step up military support for Ukraine

Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg with South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin during their meeting in Seoul, South Korea, on Jan 29, 2023. PHOTO: REUTERS

SEOUL – Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg urged South Korea on Monday to increase military support to Ukraine, citing other countries that have changed their policy of not providing weapons to countries in conflict after Russia’s invasion.

Mr Stoltenberg is in Seoul, the first stop on a trip that will include Japan and is aimed at strengthening ties with US allies in the face of the war in Ukraine and rising competition with China.

Speaking at the Chey Institute for Advanced Studies in Seoul, he thanked South Korea for its non-lethal aid to Ukraine, but urged it to do more, adding there is an “urgent need” for ammunition. Russia calls the invasion a “special operation”.

“I urge the Republic of Korea to continue and to step up on the specific issue of military support,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s a decision for you to make, but I’ll say that several Nato allies who have had as a policy to never export weapons to countries in a conflict have changed that policy now.”

In meetings with senior South Korean officials, Mr Stoltenberg argued that events in Europe and North America are interconnected with other regions, and that the alliance wants to help manage global threats by increasing partnerships in Asia.

South Korea has signed major deals providing hundreds of tanks, aircraft and other weapons to North Atlantic Treaty Organisation member Poland since the war began, but South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol has said that his country’s law against providing arms to countries in conflicts makes providing weapons to Ukraine difficult.

Mr Stoltenberg noted that countries such as Germany, Sweden and Norway had similar policies but have changed them.

“If we don’t want autocracy and tyranny to win, then (the Ukrainians) need weapons, that’s the reality,” he said.

The Nato chief said it was “extremely important” that Russia does not win this war, not only for the Ukrainians but also to avoid sending a wrong message to authoritarian leaders, including in Beijing, that they can get what they want by force. 

Although China is not Nato’s adversary, it has become“much higher” on Nato’s agenda, Mr Stoltenberg said, citing Beijing’s rising military capabilities and coercive behaviour in the region.

“We believe that we should engage with China on issues like arms control, climate change and other issues,” he said. “But at the same time, we are very clear that China poses a challenge to our values, to our interests and to our security.” 

Responding to a question about Mr Stoltenberg’s remarks, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said on Monday that China was a partner to countries, not a challenge, and that it did not threaten any nation’s interests or security.

“We also hope that Nato will abandon its Cold War mentality and the concept of bloc confrontation, and do more for the security and stability of Europe and the world,” Ms Mao told a regular news briefing.

In a statement carried by state media on Monday, North Korea called Mr Stoltenberg’s visit a “prelude to confrontation and war as it brings the dark clouds of a ‘new Cold War’ to the Asia-Pacific region”.

In 2022, South Korea opened its first diplomatic mission to Nato, vowing to deepen cooperation on non-proliferation, cyber defence, counter-terrorism, disaster response and other security areas.

The Nato chief’s visit also comes as US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin was due to arrive in Seoul on Monday for talks with his South Korean counterpart Lee Jong-Sup. REUTERS

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