NATO’s secretary-general, Jens Stoltenberg, urged South Korea on Monday to increase its support for Ukraine in the face of Russia’s invasion and hinted that it should consider providing military aid in addition to the humanitarian and economic assistance it already supplies.
South Korea has condemned Moscow’s war in Ukraine, joined in imposing sanctions against Russia and also signed deals to supply tanks, aircraft and other military aid to Poland, a country that borders Ukraine and is a NATO member. But the government in Seoul has declined to offer lethal assistance to Ukraine, citing a policy of not giving weapons to a country during a conflict.
Mr. Stoltenberg, speaking in Seoul on Monday, thanked South Korea for the support it has provided, but suggested it could do more.
“On the specific issue of military support, I would say that’s, at the end of the day, a decision for you to make,” Mr. Stoltenberg told an audience at the Chey Institute for Advanced Studies, a geopolitical think tank in the South Korean capital.
“But I will say that several NATO allies, who had as a policy never to export weapons to countries in conflict, have changed that policy now,” he added. He cited Germany as an example, as well as Sweden and Norway, and said that South Korea should “step up” its support.
Mr. Stoltenberg, who held talks on Monday with President Yoon Suk Yeol of South Korea, is on a tour aimed at strengthening NATO’s relationships with its allies in Asia. South Korea is not a member of the alliance but has close ties to it and in November opened a diplomatic mission at NATO’s headquarters in Brussels.
There was no immediate response to Mr. Stoltenberg’s remarks from the government in Seoul. On Sunday, South Korea’s foreign ministry said that Mr. Stoltenberg’s visit would focus on “ways to enhance cooperation between Korea and NATO.”
The United States, Britain, France, Germany and Poland this month agreed to send tanks to Ukraine, the latest demonstration of military support from NATO nations. But Western leaders are keen to broaden the list of countries who can provide military aid, and South Korea has one of the largest standing armies in the world.
Many people in South Korea have followed Ukraine’s war and the international response to it closely, given parallels between its situation and their own: Russia, a nuclear-armed state, has invaded Ukraine, while South Korea remains vulnerable to North Korea, its nuclear-armed neighbor.