[VIEWPOINT]Joining NATO makes sense for KoreaAt a NATO foreign ministers’ meeting held in April in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, the United States and the United Kingdom officially proposed inviting South Korea, Japan and Australia to participate in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as global partners.
This is the first meaningful proposal presented by NATO since Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon, who visited NATO for the first time as a South Korean foreign minister in December last year, delivered a speech that evoked a positive response from the organization.
South Korea must decide its position on the proposal discreetly before the NATO summit meeting in Riga, the capital of Latvia, in November. I think it should join.
Historically, South Korea has concentrated its strategic interests only on matters related to East or Northeast Asia. It has not paid attention to strategic issues involving the regions west of China, including Europe, the Middle East and Central Asia.
The dispatch of troops by South Korea to Iraq provided the momentum needed to get rid of this strategic shortcoming.
South Korea, which had previously only helped in construction projects and sold industrial products to the Middle East, has now deployed its own forces there and contributes to the peace and stability of the Middle East.
After sending troops to Iraq, South Korea has strengthened its political and economic cooperation with countries in the southern Caucasus region of Central Asia (Georgia, Azerbayzan and Armenia) and it also has started to widen its strategic horizon.
Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States, Washington has been concentrating on establishing a network of global alliances while planning to redeploy U.S. forces overseas.
In the case of Europe, the strategic axis has moved from Western to Eastern Europe, as Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and the three Baltic countries have become the new allies of the United States, as well as new members of NATO.
Countries in the Caucasus where U.S. troops will be stationed, including Georgia, Azerbaijan and Kyrgyzstan, have become part of the new alliance led by the United States.
Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India have also been included in the American network of states that are anti-terror and anti-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
In East Asia, a strategic dialogue between the United States and Korea, and a triangular one among the United States, Japan and Australia has started.
From this, we come to understand why the United States and Britain have proposed the participation of South Korea, Japan and Australia in NATO as global partners.
The new strategic map that the United States envisions in Europe, Middle East, Central Asia and East Asia is a complex network with which the United States aims to achieve such purposes as stopping terrorists, securing energy and creating economic opportunity.
The logical conclusion is that utilizing the global network of the United States helps South Korea’s national interests.
Unlike the member countries of NATO, the global partners do not participate in collective military actions. Instead, they take part in only voluntary non-military activities such as peacekeeping, disaster relief, emergency operations and military disarmament.
It is difficult to deny that NATO’s expansion to a global network has the aspect of “checking” China as a part of its purpose.
However, it is more active and independently diplomatic to participate in NATO as a global partner while developing closer political and economic relations with China than it is to refuse the U.S. proposal to participate in the global network out of consideration for China.
I am confident that the Korea-U.S. alliance is not at all inversely proportionate to Korea-China cooperation.
On a global level, South Korea can play the role of helping the United States in anti-terror, disaster relief and peacekeeping roles.
On a regional level in East Asia, the United States can guarantee South Korea’s right of survival by keeping a balance of power between China and Japan.
In return for that, it is desirable that South Korea recognizes the United States’ leadership in the region.
At the level of the Korean Peninsula, South Korea has to initiate inter-Korean reconciliation and cooperation, denuclearization of the peninsula and transfer of the armistice to a peace treaty.
It is necessary, therefore, to consider positively the proposal of the United States and the United Kingdom to participate in NATO as a global partner.
* The writer is a professor at the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kim Sung-han