June 16, 2022

Japan and South Korea’s Attendance at the Upcoming NATO Summit Could Worsen Global Tensions

As the military conflict in Ukraine bogs down on a slice of the embattled nation’s eastern and southern periphery, the geopolitical shift sparked by Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion keeps gaining new ground. This week, it emerged that the leaders of Japan and South Korea will attend a NATO summit, as observers, for the first time….

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced on Wednesday that he would attend the June 28-30 gathering of the 30-strong military alliance in Madrid. The attendance of South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol was confirmed earlier by his presidential office…..Japan has a sea border and is locked in territorial disputes with Russia. The Kremlin’s historic backing of North Korea is meanwhile a…concern for Seoul.

Commenting on his historic visit, Kishida told reporters that he intended to highlight common security concerns in Europe and Asia. “As the only Asian country in the G7, Japan’s diplomatic capabilities are being tested,” he said.

The news is a geopolitical blow to Russian President Vladmir Putin. Already, formerly neutral European nations Finland and Sweden have applied to join the bloc, while Denmark recently voted to align with the E.U. on defense matters. The presence of Kishida and Yoon in Madrid is also an unwelcome development for Beijing, which has refused to condemn Moscow for the war, arguing, as many Western thinkers have, that Russia was provoked by NATO’s eastward expansion.

…At the Shangri-la Dialogue security summit in Singapore on June 11, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III insisted “we do not seek a new Cold War, an Asian NATO, or a region split into hostile blocs.”

Critics say that’s exactly what NATO risks by expanding its remit beyond a European security mission.


Over the last few weeks, Kishida has hosted a summit of the Quad security dialogue – alongside the U.S., Australia and India – and given the keynote speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue, warning “I myself have a strong sense of urgency that Ukraine today may be East Asia tomorrow.”

…Already, Japan has promised to boost defense spending to 2% of GDP in line with NATO targets….

…South Korea’s spy agency has already joined NATO’s cyber defense unit.


The perception in Beijing is that Tokyo and Seoul’s participation in Madrid is directed at China. “NATO is headed by the United States,” says Zhou Bo, a retired PLA senior colonel and senior fellow at the Center for International Security and Strategy at Tsinghua University. “Therefore, if the United States concludes that China is a more serious threat than Russia, then of course it will just make use of NATO.”

…NATO’s attitude to China is turning more hostile. Zhou, who during his PLA career was for a period in charge of relations with NATO, says that the bloc used to describe China as an “opportunity,” but under U.S. direction has tellingly shifted to using the term “challenge.”


“One of the problems with European security is that it increasingly became purely about trying to deter Russia, which became convinced that it was on the outside and had nothing to lose in using force.

“The nightmare scenario in East Asia is that China decides they have nothing to gain from actively participating in this [security] architecture so they basically have to destroy the architecture.”