NATO Secretary General to visit the Republic of Korea

(Photo courtesy of NATO) (Yonhap)

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen will visit the Republic of Korea from 11 to 13 April 2013.

In Seoul, he will meet with President Park Geun-hye, Speaker of the National Assembly Kang Chang-hee, Minister of  Foreign Affairs Yun Byung-se, and Minister of Defence Kim Kwan Jin.

Fogh Rasmussen gave an interview to Yonhap press agency, which offers some context. Here are the highlights:

“We are watching the development in the Korean Peninsula with great concern,” NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in an exclusive interview with Yonhap News Agency Monday at the NATO headquarters in Brussels.  “North Korea’s rhetoric, attitude and actions are provocative. North Korea’s actions pose a threat to regional and international security. They’re irresponsible; they are in defiance of the international community.  “So I have a very clear message to North Korea. Stop what you are saying. Stop what you are doing.” 

The NATO chief stressed, however, that the alliance has no intentions to engage militarily in Asia, saying that the group’s security guarantee only covers its 28 member states across North America and Europe. Still, NATO is aware that the security situation in East Asia could also affect its members, including the United States, in particular, he said. 

In the meetings, the two sides are expected to discuss ways to further develop their partnership in such areas as counter-terrorism, cyber security, maritime security, including counter-piracy, as well as the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and disaster relief, the NATO chief said.   He also plans to visit the truce village of Panmunjom inside the demilitarized zone along the inter-Korean border.   “I want to see with my own eyes how the situation has developed. I visited the demilitarized zone last time I visited the Republic of Korea as prime minister of Denmark,” Rasmussen said, referring to South Korea by its official name. “But of course I also want to demonstrate that the whole of the international community, which also includes NATO, is watching the situation on the Korean Peninsula with great concern.”

Evidence of a NATO pivot or conspiracy theory?

This will be the first-ever visit of a NATO secretary general to South Korea, and it has some wondering what it might mean. Voice of Russia has been reporting an unlikely tale about NATO plans to activate Article 5 with regard to the situation, but there is no official confirmation and it seems (to be generous) like a misunderstanding of what he said.

It seems to me more likely that this is a more modest but still clever bit of symbolism on several levels:

1) it shows NATO partners that their support (e.g. in Afghanistan, where ROK has had a considerable presence) is appreciated, and NATO cares about their situation too

2) it shows that NATO is capable of being relevant in some way to the contemporary Asian security agenda – note that the Secretary General will continue his visit to the region in Japan from 13 to 16 April 2013.

3) it gives visibility to the current Sec Gen (some have talked about as a successor for other prominent posts like head of the EU External Action service and High Rep for Foreign and Security Policy)

4) it helps the US and its allies show they can bring broad pressure to bear on North Korea

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