Amid Growing Global Risks, NATO Seeks Closer Ties with Japan, ROK

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg delivers a speech to Japan Self-Defense Forces personnel at Iruma Air Base in Sayama, Saitama Prefecture, on Tuesday.

North Atlantic Treaty Organization Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg visited Japan and South Korea because he believes that stability in the Indo-Pacific region is essential for Europe’s security. For the NATO summit in July, an expanded meeting including Japan and South Korea is being considered.

According to NATO officials, the Japanese government first approached Stoltenberg about a visit to Japan around 2020, but the visit was postponed due to the novel coronavirus pandemic and the Russian invasion in Ukraine. There were calls within NATO for the visit to Japan to be postponed again in order to prioritize the response to the situation in Ukraine, but Stoltenberg stressed the need for the visit, and it was officially decided in January.

NATO had the intention of strengthening relations with Japan prior to this year’s Group of Seven summit, which Japan will chair.

In the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the importance of relations with Japan and South Korea is being reaffirmed in Europe. Japan has taken a hard line against Russia, aligning itself with the West, and weapons made in South Korea are increasing their presence in the global arms market. While other Asian countries are taking a wait-and-see approach in their diplomacy with Russia, Stoltenberg has named and praised three countries — Japan, South Korea and Singapore — that are joining sanctions against Russia.

NATO is increasingly wary of China. In its Strategic Concept document, revised last June, the organization expressed its intention to strengthen its involvement in the surrounding region. This appears to be partly because U.S.-European relations have improved from the acrimony that existed under former U.S. President Donald Trump, and NATO now reflects the wishes of the U.S. more in its decision-making.

However, NATO’s response in the event of a Taiwan contingency is unclear. Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty clearly states the right of collective self-defense, but according to Article 6, the applicable scope is limited to Europe and North America. Even in the event of an attack on a U.S. military base in East Asia, European nations are quite cautious about military intervention by NATO.