June 17, 2022

A weighty NATO summit invitation in the hands of president joking about inexperience

Special “partner nations” have been invited to the NATO summit to be held in Madrid, Spain, from June 29-30. In addition to the leaders of the 30 NATO member states, the leaders of South Korea, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand, the president of Ukraine, and the prime ministers of Sweden and Finland will also be in attendance.

The South Korean presidential office highlighted the significance of such an invitation when they announced on June 10 that President Yoon Suk-yeol would be “the first Korean leader to attend [a NATO summit] after receiving an official invitation from NATO.”

At home, attention is mainly focused on whether a Korea-Japan summit will be held on the sidelines of the NATO summit or whether the first lady, Kim Keon-hee, will accompany Yoon to Madrid. In reality, however, there is far more at stake at this summit.

The upcoming summit is intended to transform NATO, which has focused on European security since its founding in 1949 as a counterforce against the Soviet Union, into a global organization that responds to the “dual threats” of Russia and China.

At this summit, NATO will adopt a new “strategic concept” for the first time since 2010, the core of which concerns strengthening NATO’s military posture and expanding the scope of its activities to the Indo-Pacific region. In June of last year, NATO characterized China as presenting “systemic challenges” and declared that it would keep the expansion of China and Russia’s influence in check at the same time.

As China continues to defend Russia amid the latter’s invasion of Ukraine in February, European countries have grown increasingly wary of Beijing…”[T]here is a growing consensus among the international community that the possibility of China taking Taiwan by force should be met with a joint response.

In this context, Yoon’s participation in the NATO summit is highly symbolic in its own right.

Currently, three developments are colliding in the international order. The first involves the US rallying its allies and partners to form a network of checks against China. It’s launched the Quad (alongside Japan, Australia and India), AUKUS (along with Australia and the UK), and the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, and is promoting trilateral military cooperation between South Korea, the US, and Japan as well as strengthening the overall role of NATO.


…The diplomacy of the Yoon administration seems to be integrated with the overarching strategy of the US….

During his campaign, Yoon stoked anti-Chinese sentiment in Korea with comments like, “The Korean people dislike China.” Ahead of the South Korea-US summit, Yoon even remarked that South Korea would join the Quad without considering the Quad’s delicate internal balance of power, but the US responded by saying they were “not considering” Korean membership for the time being.

Yoon also hurriedly announced he would be attending the NATO summit five days ahead of Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.


As the world’s sixth-largest military power and 10th-largest economy, South Korea has the power to shift the balance of the international order through its security cooperation with NATO….