NATO at the Pacific (II)

South Korea’s President renounces compensation from Japan for World War II crimes to facilitate the West’s closing ranks against China. Bundeswehr conducts exercises with units from South Korea.

BRUSSELS/SEOUL (Own report) – South Korea’s President Yoon Suk Yeol announced the renunciation of compensation from Japan for its crimes committed during its occupation in World War II to facilitate closer – including military – cooperation with the West. Yesterday, Yoon announced his plan to establish a foundation, which will use South Korean funds to compensate forced laborers, who had been exploited by Japanese companies until 1945. The plan is met with broad protest in South Korea, while being seen with sympathy in the West: It is facilitating the transatlantic powers’ closing ranks with Japan and South Korea against China. Like Tokyo, Seoul, for years, has been intensifying its cooperation with NATO. Yoon attends NATO summits and South Korea’s armed forces plan to participate in exercises of the transatlantic military alliance. The Bundeswehr has also been regularly engaged in exercises with the South Korean troops since the frigate Bayern made its first Asian Pacific cruise in 2021/22. South Korea is boosting its military budget, currently by 6.8 percent. Japan is pursuing the strongest militarization in the region.

Partners Across the Globe

Already back in 2005, NATO had begun to expand its relations with South Korea by welcoming South Korean Foreign Minister – and future UN Secretary General – Ban Ki-Moon at its headquarters in Brussels to discuss closer cooperation. Since its April 2008 Summit in Bucharest, NATO has been explicitly referring to South Korea as one of its „partners across the globe.” From 2010 to 2013, South Korea had participated in NATO’s war in Afghanistan. Subsequently, in cooperation with NATO, South Korean naval forces have temporarily provided escorts to merchant vessels passing through the waters off the Horn of Africa.[1] In 2012, South Korea and NATO signed an Individual Partnership and Cooperation Program (IPCP), which was renewed in 2019. In 2020, South Korea participated for the first time in a NATO Foreign Ministers’ meeting – together with Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Finland and Sweden. At the June 2022 NATO summit in Madrid, Seoul was represented for the first time by its president, Yoon Suk Yeol. Yoon is also expected to take part in the July 11-12, 2023, NATO summit in Lithuania’s capital, Vilnius. Since November, South Korea has also been represented by its own diplomatic mission at NATO’s headquarters in Brussels.

Joint Exercises

At the end of January, NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg made a two-day visit to Seoul to discuss the expansion of cooperation. Following talks with President Yoon Suk Yeol and Foreign Minister Park Jin, Stoltenberg announced plans to deepen cooperation including in the area of cyber defense.[2] South Korea is already participating in the activities of NATO’s Cooperative Cyber Defense Centre of Excellence (CCDCOE), headquartered in Estonia’s capital, Tallinn. CCDCOE supports NATO members in cyber defense. Other participating countries include Ukraine and the officially still neutral countries of Austria and Switzerland. South Korea was also involved in NATO’s Cyber Coalition 2022 exercise. In mid-February, a NATO delegation in Seoul discussed the participation of South Korean troops in subsequent NATO exercises.[3] NATO is currently urging South Korea to supply Ukraine with arms. Seoul has no such intention, because it does not want to exacerbate tensions in its relationship with Russia. For precisely that reason, South Korean arms deliveries to Ukraine would be advantageous to NATO: it would forge even stronger ties between that country and the transatlantic military alliance.

“Universal Values”

From the West’s perspective, particularly that of the United States, to establish a nearly tight-knit front in confrontation with China, it would be desirable that South Korea not only closely cooperate with NATO, but also closely cooperates militarily with Japan. This has been impeded for years by Japan’s refusal to finally pay reparations for its crimes committed during the period of its colonization of Korea (1905 – 1945), which would include compensations to the Korean women forced into prostitution, as well as for the forced laborers in Japanese factories. South Korea’s President Yoon Suk Yeol, has been seeking rapprochement between Seoul and Tokyo, almost at all costs, since he assumed office in May 2022. On March 1, Korean Independence Day, Yoon alleged that Japan has “transformed from a militaristic aggressor of the past into a partner that shares the same universal values with us.”[4] Yesterday Yoon also proposed the creation of a foundation, that would compensate the former South Korean forced laborers of Japanese companies. Apparently, the foundation is to be financed mainly by South Korea. The plan was met, yesterday, with widespread protest.[5]

Arms Buildup in East Asia

An official termination of tensions between Japan and South Korea would also be very advantageous for the German government. For some time, Berlin has been expanding its foreign and military policy cooperation with Tokyo. Since April 2021, the foreign and defense ministers of both countries have been regularly holding, what is known as the 2+2 consultations, most recently, on November 3, 2022. That format ensures a closer merging of classical foreign policy with military planning. Japan has also intensified its cooperation with NATO. Most recently NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg visited Tokyo immediately following his stay in Seoul. In addition, Japan is in the midst of an enormous arms buildup. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida seeks to increase Japan’s military spending in the coming five years by 56 percent, to around US $318 billion, to provide Japan with the world’s third largest military budget. In addition – contrary to their officially continued doctrine of strict limitation to self-defense – the Japanese armed forces are also developing the capacity for “counterattacks” against enemy territory. This is in fact directed against China. ( reported.[6]) South Korea is also engaged in an arms buildup, albeit not quite as massive. Currently, the defense budget will be increased by about 6.8% annually.[7] President Yoon has also triggered a debate about the possible nuclear weaponizing of South Korea.[8]

Against China

An example of the significance Berlin places on its military cooperation with both Tokyo and simultaneously with Seoul, is seen in the configuration of Berlin’s new Asia-Pacific exercises. It began with its dispatchment of the frigate Bayern in August 2021, continued last year with, among others, the deployment of an air wing to Australia. And this summer, German ground troops will be sent to participate in major exercises, also taking place in Australia. Already the frigate Bayern had not only made a port call in Tokyo, but in South Korea’s Busan, as well.[9] The air force had been exercising in Australia with both Japanese and South Korean troops, and subsequently made brief stopovers in both Japan and South Korea.[10] In the Talisman Sabre 2023, the large-scale maneuver to take place from July to August in Northwestern Australia, German soldiers will be participating alongside units from Japan and South Korea.[11] It goes without saying, that the US military has participated in all of these combat maneuvers. The western front being erected in ‘East Asia against the People’s Republic of China is being forged increasingly tighter.


[1] Relations with the Republic of Korea. 10.02.2023.

[2] Secretary General stresses value of NATO’s global partnerships in visit to Republic of Korea. 30.01.2023.

[3] NATO military delegation at staff talks with Partner, Republic of Korea. 17.02.2023.

[4] Mitch Shin: South Korean President Calls Japan ‘Partner’ on Independence Day. 01.03.2023.

[5] Südkorea will Streit mit Japan über ehemalige Zwangsarbeiter beilegen – Opposition übt scharfe Kritik. 06.03.2023.

[6] See also Militarization of the First Island Chain.

[7] South Korea Unveils 2023-2027 Mid-term Defense Plan. 26.01.2023.

[8] Kim atomar Kontra geben? 11.02.2023.

[9] See also Mit der Luftwaffe an den Pazifik.

[10] See also Die zweite Front der Bundeswehr.

[11] See also German Army at the Pacific.