On Thursday, South Korea’s spy agency became the first in Asia to join NATO’s Cyber Defense Group (CDG), which could bring the country closer to NATO amid escalating tensions with regional giant China.
The National Intelligence Service (NIS) of South Korea announced that it had been accepted as a contributing participant for NATO’s Cooperative Cyber Defense Center of Excellence (CCDCOE).
The cyber defense group was founded in Tallinn in 2008 in response to a cyberattack that disrupted Estonia’s state networks. It focuses on cyber security research, training, and exercises.
The NIS applied to join the organization in 2019 and has taken part in the two most recent Locked Shields exercises, the world’s largest international live-fire cyber defense exercise. The CCDCOE now includes 27 NATO member countries and five non-NATO partners.
JUST IN: 🇰🇷 South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) has begun to notify the country's major #cryptocurrency exchanges of hacking attempts.
— Watcher.Guru (@WatcherGuru) April 8, 2022
“Cyber threats are causing great damage to not only individuals but also separate nations and also transnationally, so close international cooperation is crucial,” the NIS said. “We plan to send more employees to the CCDCOE and expand the scope of joint exercises to reinforce our cyber defense capabilities,” NIS added.
Despite being home to some of the world’s leading technology businesses, such as LG and Samsung, South Korea only launched its National Cybersecurity Strategy under the Moon Jae-in administration in 2018.
According to the Korea Institute of Liberal Democracy in Seoul, a crack squad of 6,800 North Korean spies are involved in fraud, blackmail, and internet gambling, generating around $860 million annually. China is the source of many attacks.
South Korea’s Close Interest In NATO
There is also a probability that South Korea’s move may enrage Russia besides China.
The CCDCOE voted in March to include Ukraine as a “contributing participant” among other non-NATO countries such as Sweden, Finland, Switzerland, and now South Korea.
Nevertheless, South Korea’s accession to the group appears to represent a sharpening determination among US allies in reaction to rising threats from, in essence, Moscow and Beijing, which has backed Vladimir Putin’s military aggression.
China’s Foreign Ministry official lauded ties with Russia as “a new model of international relations” on April 29.
In response to the news, Hu Xijin, the former editor of the Chinese state-owned media house Global Times, tweeted that the action was a provocation and could result in an Asian war.
“If South Korea takes a path of turning hostile against its neighbors, the end of this path could be Ukraine,” he warned.
If South Korea takes a path of turning hostile against its neighbors, the end of this path could be a Ukraine. https://t.co/WVuQvpLjLv
— Hu Xijin 胡锡进 (@HuXijin_GT) May 5, 2022
Meanwhile, whether developments in Ukraine spurred NATO to approve South Korea’s membership eventually is unknown. This action will undoubtedly help Seoul to boost its relations with NATO.
There is little doubt that NATO is increasing its presence in the aftermath of the Ukraine conflict. Four Asian allies of the United States, including South Korea, attended a NATO foreign ministerial conference in Brussels in April 2022 to discuss the Ukraine situation. All four countries have now been invited to attend the forthcoming NATO Summit in Madrid, in June.
Soon after, Seoul expressed its interest in participating in this gathering, with the country’s foreign minister nominee announcing that South Korea is contemplating attending a NATO summit.
South Korea has been touted as a possible non-member participant in the summit, along with Japan, Australia, and New Zealand, as the US attempts to mobilize allies and partners to hold Russia accountable for its invasion of Ukraine.
According to the experts, NATO appears to regard the Ukraine issue as having the potential to alter security settings in Asia, which is why it considers the need to examine the link between the European problem and Asian stability.
Also, there are numerous reasons for the South Korean government to beef up its defenses. For instance, North Korea’s continuous missile tests have rattled Seoul amid the Ukraine crisis, besides the usual Chinese bellicose.
Given the growing importance of the Indo-Pacific region, it is clear that if NATO wishes to remain relevant, it must look beyond its name geography and engage with the Indo-Pacific region.
However, it will in turn jeopardize AUKUS, the trilateral security partnership between Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Quad. The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad), often described as an Asian NATO by China, is a strong embodiment of the Indo-Pacific balancing policy. The United States, India, Australia, and Japan are the members of this arrangement.
South Korea is also considered part of the “Quad Plus” group. Even though the original Quad countries’ collaboration is strengthening, fundamental impediments to integrating South Korea as a formal member still exist.
South Korea’s hesitation to join a Quad Plus security architecture demonstrates the difficulty in obtaining policy consensus among a number of countries. Similarly, its cooperation with NATO in broader military terms may be complex, and that’s why the country may not take a dramatic policy shift in this regard.