Editor's Note

In this Commentary, Yang Gyu Kim, Principal Researcher at the East Asia Institute (EAI), explains the objectives behind the U.S.’ invitation of its key allies the Indo-Pacific to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Summit. He posits that the U.S. aims to establish a highly institutionalized cooperative mechanism that combines the capacities of existing alliances among like-minded countries in the Indo-Pacific. In this context, the author stresses the need for South Korea to address the implications of the Russia-Ukraine War, the emerging Chinese threat, and reestablish ROK-Japan relations. Lastly, Dr. Kim proposes that the administration should carefully consider how it might restore international cooperation on the North Korea issue and resume the denuclearization process.

President Yoon Suk-yeol was the first South Korean president to attend the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Summit, held from June 29 to 30. In addition to South Korea, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Sweden, Finland, Ukraine, Georgia, and others attended this year’s summit in Madrid as NATO’s global partners. Yoon’s achievement of another diplomatic “first” in less than two months may imbue his presidential office with confidence. However, effective strategies should be built on the premise that “the best course of action for each player depends on what the other players do.” [1] Given that the U.S. has decided to invite South Korea and other major democracies in the region to the summit, the South Korean government should consider the implications of this summit for South Korean diplomacy and carefully prepare its future moves.


The U.S.’ Calculations and the Madrid NATO Summit


Leading up to and following the ROK-U.S. Summit on May 21, several high-level ROK-U.S. and ROK-U.S-Japan talks took place. [2] The reasoning behind the U.S’ decision to invite South Korea to the NATO summit was most clearly outlined by Kurt Campbell, the National Security Council Coordinator for the Indo-Pacific, during his keynote presentation at the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ (CSIS’) “Transatlantic Dialogue on the Indo-Pacific.” [2]


Campbell has tried to allay concerns about the perceived zero-sum competition between U.S. allies in Europe and Asia arising from limited U.S. diplomatic resources – he argued that strengthened cooperation between the U.S. and a given regional ally does not necessarily weaken the U.S. existing relationships with other allies. Campbell went on to discuss the unprecedented involvement of U.S.-allied Asian countries in the European theater after the onset of the Russia-Ukraine War. U.S.-allied Asian countries have actively assisted NATO following the Russian invasion of Ukraine by providing military, humanitarian, and refugee aid, as well as by imposing economic sanctions. Per Campbell, this involvement is evidence to the fact U.S. efforts to bridge the Indo-Pacific and Europe are “bearing fruit.” Campbell points out, however, that the more fundamental challenges of the 21st century will emerge from the Indo-Pacific, stressing that his most important responsibility will be to establish a “strategic framework” for cooperation between leaders in Asia and Europe.


The many high-level talks in which the U.S. has participated over the past month also attest to this U.S. stance on the Indo-Pacific. During the May 21 U.S.-ROK Summit, President Biden emphasized three objectives: first, to strengthen U.S.-ROK-Japan relations as part of the effort to establish a rules-based international order; second, to crack down on Russia by heightening sanctions, restricting exports, and deterring further invasions, and to send humanitarian aid to Ukraine; and third, for South Korea to increase its involvement in resolving issues such as the coup d’etat in Myanmar, conflict surrounding the South China Sea and Taiwan, and human rights violations. [4] U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken[5] and Deputy Secretary of State Wendy R. Sherman[6] have voiced similar positions.


This is also reflective of U.S. efforts to mobilize the capacities of like-minded countries in the face of rising competition from authoritarian states such as China and Russia. The U.S. perceives its fundamental challenge to be that from China; the Russia-Ukraine conflict is secondary. The U.S. aims to build a security network capable of flexible and powerful reaction to contingencies by establishing a highly institutionalized cooperative mechanism like NATO that combines the capacities of both individual countries and existing alliances amongst U.S. allies in the Indo-Pacific. The ultimate objective is to establish connections between such a network and NATO to form “security frameworks” that bridge the Indo-Pacific and Europe. The missing link in creating such a network system is worsened ROK-Japan relations, which have deteriorated in the wake of the 2019 Forced Labor Court Ruling, the trade war, and the conditional postponement of the dissolution of the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA).


The U.S. decision to invite both South Korea and Japan to this year’s Madrid Summit indicates that it is looking to encourage talks between the two countries and to strengthen ROK-Japan-Australia-New Zealand relations. So what sorts of proposals is the U.S. hoping to discuss with these four countries in particular?


Twelve years after the adoption of the seventh NATO Strategic Concept (2010), the summit provides an opportunity to develop new strategic objectives. The NATO Strategic Concept outlines the core threats and challenges in the international security environment and the steps NATO will take to address them. [7] Despite the rapid changes in the nature and severity of the security threats that Europe has faced since NATO’s inception in 1949, NATO has been able to adapt to these challenges and firmly maintain unity among its member states by revising the Strategic Concept, on average, every ten years. [8]


The Seventh Strategic Concept adopted at the 2010 Lisbon summit was seated in the context of Western military, economic, and political hegemony and the absence of a strategic rival to the West. It identified “collective defense,” “crisis management,” and “cooperative security” as its core objectives in response to issues such as energy security, terrorism, cyberattacks, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons. However, following the Arab Spring; crises in Libya, Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan; the Russian invasion of Crimea and Ukraine; weakening of U.S. alliances during the Trump administration; and President Xi’s aggressive foreign policy tactics and increased Chinese national power, [9] NATO decided at the 2021 Brussels Summit that it would adopt a new Strategic Concept in line with the “return of strategic competition between great powers.”


The two key issues to be discussed at the Madrid summit are: first, the collective defense of NATO members against Russia’s threats to the status quo and deterring further Russian aggression against Ukraine; and second, China’s increasing military power and responding to aggressive Chinese diplomacy in Central Asia, South America, and Africa. While the former issue is important for European NATO members, the latter is far more relevant for U.S. allies in Asia and Oceania, who are also NATO’s global partners, including South Korea. The U.S. aims to kill two birds with one stone by addressing both the Russia and China threats in this year’s new NATO Strategic Concept.


The South Korean Government’s Stance


Then what would President Yoon, who is advocating for a “Global Pivotal State,” emphasize at the Madrid summit? Content about the direction of South Korean diplomacy that has been emphasized by the current government since the presidential election is detailed on the Executive Office of the President’s website under its “110 National Tasks” section, [10] as well as by Minister of Foreign Affairs Jin Park during his opening speech at the CSIS roundtable on June 14, 2022. [11]


Minister Park evaluates that the ROK-U.S. alliance is developing into a comprehensive partnership based on “common values and goals,” and such an alliance represents a “true evolution” of bilateral relations. In this context, he asserted that South Korea would strengthen cooperation on issues that threaten the rules-based international order—including the Russian invasion of Ukraine—and intensify South Korea’s role and responsibility in the Indo-Pacific in upholding the norms of the international community, such as freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. In this context, during the June 13 press conference hosted jointly with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, he emphasized the need to normalize GSOMIA. [12]


This demonstrates that the South Korean government fully understands U.S. demands. That is to say, South Korea to improve its status in the international community through a level of contribution consistent with its ranking as 10th worldwide in economic and military power not only by strengthening trilateral cooperation between South Korea, the U.S, and Japan, but also imposing sanctions on Russia, which carried out an “unprovoked armed aggression.” This will be emphasized by President Yoon in Madrid and the NATO member states will welcome South Korea’s promises to expand its role and contribution, especially in the Indo-Pacific. The key question is whether this will indeed be a diplomatic move to “secure practical benefits,” as emphasized in the national agenda.


The NATO Summit and South Korea’s Challenges


Developing the new Strategic Concept will comprise the core of the agenda for the upcoming NATO Summit. The key challenge is to determine the factors that threaten the security of Europe and the Atlantic. In particular, it is important to accurately frame the threats that come from China and Russia. For example, the term “strategic competitor” is used by NATO in reference to their relationship with China and can be interpreted in various ways depending on the particular aspect of the relationship being emphasized. China has been labeled as “competitor, partner and rival.” [13] When discussing technological and economic issues, China becomes the “competitor.” In conversations surrounding global crises like climate change and health cooperation, China is a “partner.” And in the debate around international rules and norms, China is a systemic “rival.” Given that South Korea has the opportunity to voice its opinion on NATO’s definition of the Russian and Chinese threat, it should carefully consider how to address the following fundamental questions in the interest of national strategy.


First, we must consider the implications of the Russia-Ukraine War and solidify our stance on the future of the European security order. This also concerns the extent to which South Korea will participate in NATO’s sanctions against Russia. As of March 7, Russia has already released a list of countries that have engaged in “unfriendly activity towards Russia”; the list included NATO countries and the four U.S. allies (Korea, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand) attending the summit. On June 17, at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, President Putin announced food export restrictions on top of the previously announced restrictions on payments—including gas purchases—levied against the “unfriendly” countries. [14] It remains unknown whether Russia will continue to impose measures against such countries. Seoul should keep this in mind when considering the extent to which it will contribute to resolving the Ukrainian crisis.


Second, South Korea should decide how it will characterize the Chinese threat. For South Korea, this is an issue that is fundamental in nature and of greater importance than defining the Russian threat. During a meeting with Pakistan’s new Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari on May 22, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi criticized the U.S.’ Indo-Pacific Strategy, noting that it creates division and neutralizes existing frameworks for regional cooperation. He further argued that the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) had demonstrated U.S. attempts “politicizing, weaponizing and ideologizing economic issues and using economic means to coerce regional countries to choose sides between China and the United States.” [15] In particular, he said that the “U.S. plays the ‘Taiwan card’ and the ‘South China Sea card’ to bring chaos to the region” and that such moves threaten several countries in the Asia-Pacific, which have historically felt the negative consequences of great power competition. During the Shangri-La Dialogue on June 10, China’s Defense Minister Wei Fenghe stated that China’s “greatest wish” was “peaceful reunification” with Taiwan but added that Taiwan’s pursuit of independence would be met with resolute military retaliation. [16] He noted that this would be China’s “only choice” in such a scenario. Given this context, South Korea should carefully consider where Beijing draws its red lines and decide what diplomatic stance Seoul should take.


Third, the Yoon government should think about how South Korea reestablish bilateral relations with Japan. According to the “2021 Korea-Japan Mutual Perception Survey” jointly conducted by the East Asia Institute and the Genron NPO, 74.6% of those surveyed felt that the two countries should find a way out of the current stalemate. [17] However, ROK-Japan relations are highly politicized in domestic politics. For example, Foreign Minister Jin Park’s calls for the normalization of GSOMIA have come under fire and were denounced as a “humiliation” and “giving away.” [18] Through the NATO summit, President Yoon and Prime Minister Kishida will have an opportunity to meet face-to-face, if not at a formal bilateral meeting. The administration should decide how it will respond to domestic political opposition in the event of stronger ROK-Japan cooperation and devise ways to establish an effective system for future bilateral cooperation following a thorough discussion on how best, from a long-term perspective, to reestablish ROK-Japan relations.


Fourth, the Yoon administration should carefully consider how it might restore international cooperation on the North Korea issue and resume the denuclearization process. During the summit, President Yoon will try to reconfirm the shared goal of complete denuclearization of North Korea and seek support for Seoul’s principled approach to resolving the North Korea issue. Given that the new Strategic Concept will most likely include China as a security threat to the free world, South Korea needs to ensure there is adequate momentum for cooperation on the denuclearization issue amid intensifying strategic competition between Washington and Beijing. President Yoon will therefore emphasize the gravity of the North Korean threat, as exemplified by recent missile provocations, including the test-firing of intercontinental ballistic missiles. As NATO members agree on the principle of non-proliferation, they are generally likely to support South Korea’s position. Since China and Russia vetoed tightening sanctions on North Korea during the United Nations Security Council’s meeting in May, it is imperative that like-minded states in Europe and Indo-Pacific cooperate at a higher level to counter Pyongyang’s increasingly sophisticated measures to circumvent sanctions. However, the Yoon government should bear in mind that increasing the effectiveness of punishment will not necessarily ensure that the North Korean denuclearization process resumes. Now is the time to seriously discuss inducements to bring Pyongyang back to the negotiation table.■


※ This Commentary is based on [EAI Issue Briefing] 2022 NATO Summit in Madrid: Its Implications on South Korea’s Diplomacy.



[1] Schelling, Thomas C. 1960. The Strategy of Conflict. Harvard University Press, 3.

[2] Campbell, Kurt. 2022. “Keynote Address.” Presented in the CSDS-CSIS Transatlantic Dialogue on the Indo-Pacific, May 9. Washington D.C, U.S.A; The White House. 2022. “United States-Republic of Korea Leaders’ Joint Statement.” May 21; Republic of Korea Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 2022. “Outcome of Telephone Conversation between ROK Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Cho Hyundong and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy R. Sherman.” May 24; U.S. Department of State. 2022. Joint Statement by Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, Japanese Minister for Foreign Affairs Hayashi Yoshimasa, and Republic of Korea Minister of Foreign Affairs Park Jin. May 27; U.S. Department of State. 2022. Joint Statement on the Republic of Korea-U.S.-Japan Trilateral Vice Foreign Ministerial Meeting. June 8; U.S. Department of State. 2022. “Secretary Antony J. Blinken And Republic of Korea Foreign Minister Park Jin At a Joint Press Availability.” June 13.

[3] Campbell, Kurt. 2022. “Keynote Address.” Presented in the CSDS-CSIS Transatlantic Dialogue on the Indo-Pacific, May 9. Washington D.C, U.S.A.

[4] The White House. 2022. “United States-Republic of Korea Leaders’ Joint Statement.” May 21.

[5] U.S. Department of State. 2022. “Secretary Antony J. Blinken And Republic of Korea Foreign Minister Park Jin At a Joint Press Availability.” June 13.

[6] U.S. Department of State. 2022. “Deputy Secretary Sherman’s Meeting with Republic of Korea First Vice Foreign Minister Cho.” June 13.

[7] Simón, Luis. 2022. “The Madrid Strategic Concept and the future of NATO.” NATO Review. June 2.

[8] Cobo, Ignacio Fuente. 2022. “The Eight Strategic Concepts of Allied History.” In “The future of NATO after the Madrid 2022 summit.” Cuadernos de Estrategia 211-B. Spanish Institute for Strategic Studies, 23-25.

[9] Simón, Luis. 2022. “The great strategic competition of the 21st century and the transatlantic link.” Ibid, 36-44.

[10] 20 Presidential Transitional Committee. 2022. “The 20th Presidential Transition Committee White Paper” Office of the 20th President.

[11] Park, Jin. 2022. “Opening Speech.” Opening Speech by Foreign Minister Park Jin at CSIS Roundtable, June 14. Washington D.C, U.S.A.

[12] U.S. Department of State. 2022. “Secretary Antony J. Blinken And Republic of Korea Foreign Minister Park Jin At a Joint Press Availability.” June 13.

[13] Simón, Luis. 2022. “The great strategic competition of the 21st century and the transatlantic link.” In “The future of NATO after the Madrid 2022 summit.” Cuadernos de Estrategia 211-B. Spanish Institute for Strategic Studies, 46.

[14] The Russian Government. 2022. “The Government approves the list of unfriendly countries and territories.” March 7.

[15] Huaxia. 2022. “U.S. ‘Indo-Pacific Strategy’ bound to fail: Chinese FM.” Xinhua. May 23.

[16] Zain, Syawalludin and David Rising. 2022. “China Accuses U.S. of Trying to ‘Hijack' Support in Asia.” Time. June 12.

[17] East Asia Institute. “[EAIㆍ言論NPO Joint Press Conference] The 9th Korea-Japan Mutual Perception Survey Presentation.” September 28.

[18] Kwon, Min-chul. 2022. “FM Jin Park’s ‘Normalizing GSOMIA’ Met With Opposition … The Government Responds.” Nocut News. June 15.



Yang Gyu Kim is a Principal Researcher at East Asia Institute and a Lecturer in the Department of Political Science and International Relations at Seoul National University. He holds a Ph.D. in International Relations from Florida International University (2019) and received his Master’s (2014) and Bachelor’s degrees (2008) in International Relations from Seoul National University. Kim was a Visiting Scholar at the Arnold A. Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies at Columbia University (2020-2021). He also taught IR theory, security, and foreign policy courses at Florida International University as an Adjunct Professor (2020-2021). Kim joined the Ph.D. program with a Fulbright Graduate Study Award and received the Smith Richardson Foundation’s “World Politics and Statecraft Fellowship” award for his dissertation work. Kim’s research focuses on international security, including coercive diplomacy, nuclear weapons strategy, power transition, U.S.-China relations, and North Korea. His recent works include “At the Brink of Nuclear War: Feasibility of Retaliation and the U.S. Policy Decisions During the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis” and “The Feasibility of Punishment and the Credibility of Threats: Case Studies on the First Moroccan and the Rhineland Crises.”



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