South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol has embarked on his journey to Lithuania to attend the 2024 North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Summit, where he will deliver a powerful message opposing North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. The annual NATO Summit is held in Vilnius, Lithuania, from July 11-12. This is the second consecutive NATO Summit of the South Korean leader as an observer aiming to strengthen ties with the world’s biggest military alliances. Yoon’s itinerary includes a three-day visit to Poland following the NATO Summit.
“Now is the time to clearly demonstrate that the international community’s determination to deter North Korea’s nuclear weapons program is stronger than North Korea’s desire to develop nuclear weapons,” Yoon Suk Yeol said.
Enhanced NATO Cooperation to Counter North Korea
South Korea needs heightened cooperation with Europe and other US allies to deter North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats. According to the official statements shared with reporters, Yoon intends to enhance cooperation with NATO regarding the increasing nuclear and missile threats North Korea poses. He also emphasized the need to convey a united message, warning the international community’s unwillingness to tolerate “North Korea’s illegal acts.”
During the Summit, South Korea and NATO will adopt a new document to enhance bilateral cooperation across 11 key domains, encompassing areas of non-proliferation and cybersecurity.
Concerns Over North Korea’s Nuclear Capabilities
According to a 2018 report by the South Korean government North Korea possesses up to 60 nuclear warheads. With North Korea’s nuclear exercises entering a war-fighting strategy since the start of last year, it has tested more than 100 missiles. It has threatened to use nuclear weapons against the US and South Korea in case of potential conflicts. In response to the mounting tensions, Yoon has accelerated South Korea’s missile capability after taking office in 2022. Additionally, in April, Yoon, with US President Joe Biden, announced a key agreement to deter North Korean aggression, including a nuclear-armed submarine deployment by the US in South Korea.
Anticipated Backlash from North Korea
Discussions of North Korea’s nuclear capabilities at the NATO Summit will probably incite backlash from the former. North Korea has been critical of the growing cooperation among US allies in Asia and NATO, claiming that this endeavor aims to establish an “Asian version of NATO,” thereby exacerbating regional animosities. North Korea considers the expanding US-South Korean military drills in the region as invasion rehearsals; therefore, the nuclear weapons testing spree is a warning to both nations.
Heightened Nuclear Tensions Grip the Korean Peninsula
North Korea voiced its condemnation on Monday regarding the deployment of a nuclear missile submarine by the United States in the Korean Peninsula. According to the spokesperson of North Korea’s Ministry of National Defense, the plan of the United States to deploy strategic nuclear assets to the Korean peninsula was criticized as “the most undisguised nuclear blackmail” by North Korea, which they perceive as a significant threat to global and regional security.
The spokesperson further stated that the current circumstances provide evidence that the situation on the Korean peninsula is moving closer to the brink of nuclear conflict due to the provocative military actions taken by the United States.
President Yoon’s Agenda at the Summit
Before embarking on his trip to Lithuania, Yoon expressed that he anticipates having “several opportunities” to engage in discussions with President Biden regarding the reinforcement of the US security commitment and the enhancement of trilateral security cooperation among Seoul, Washington, and Tokyo.
On the sidelines of the Summit, Yoon will also hold a bilateral talk with Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.