In search of weapons for Ukraine, NATO turned to the countries of the East

anlene
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SEOUL — Until last year, many western European countries had a long-standing policy of not sending weapons into war zones. Everything changed with the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Most notable was the course change in Germany, Sweden and Norway.

Now some countries are looking to Northeast Asia for help.

On a trip this week that included stops in Seoul and Tokyo, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg called for more military assistance to Ukraine, citing European countries as an example.

“After the brutal invasion of Ukraine, these countries changed their policy,” Stoltenberg said, speaking in Seoul. “If you don’t want autocracy and tyranny to win, then you need a gun. It is reality.”

South Korea and Japan have already donated non-lethal military equipment to Ukraine, including body armor and helmets. But none of those countries have shipped weapons directly to Ukraine, in part because of the same legal restrictions that hold back many European countries.

Neither South Korea nor Japan have expressed any intention of changing their policy towards Ukraine. However, Stoltenberg’s comments suggest that the West may increasingly ask them to provide military assistance, especially as the war continues.

So far, South Korea has only indirectly supported Ukraine’s military efforts. Instead of transferring weapons to Kiev, Seoul has approved the sale of South Korean-made weapons to Ukrainian military supplier countries.

Poland, one of Ukraine’s main arms suppliers, last year agreed to buy $5.8 billion worth of South Korean weapons, including tanks, howitzers and ammunition. South Korean companies have smaller deals with Estonia and Norway and are in similar talks with the United States and Canada.

“All this is used to replace the old weapons that these countries sent to Ukraine. There are credible reports that some of these weapons will be sent to Ukraine or are already on their way there,” said Ramon Pacheco Pardo, a Korea specialist at King’s College London.

South Korean authorities have not announced a policy directly authorizing arms transfers, although they have softened on the issue.

In a meeting with Stoltenberg, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol discussed “a possible participation in helping the Ukrainian people in cooperation with the international community”, but did not go into details, according to a statement issued by the office of the South Korean president.

Some overseas media saw the comments as a sign of Seoul’s willingness to change its stance.

However, a Seoul-based NATO diplomat told the media that he didn’t expect major changes in South Korea’s stance any time soon, given Seoul’s close economic ties with Russia. and Moscow’s influence over North Korea.

“I hope I’m wrong,” the diplomat said.

The chances of Japan sending weapons to Ukraine are perhaps even slimmer.

Although Japan is slowly lifting its pacifist restrictions, its arms export regulations seem even less flexible than those of South Korea.

Despite these obstacles, Japan has become one of Ukraine’s strongest supporters. She quickly joined Western sanctions against Russia, sent over $1 billion in financial and humanitarian aid to Ukraine and its neighbors, and even provided Ukraine with non-lethal military equipment. which was unthinkable until recently.

“Now there is a situation where Ukrainian soldiers on the front line are wearing Japanese Type 88 helmets and using Japanese drones, fighting and killing soldiers from the neighboring country of Japan,” said Geoffrey J. Hall, who teaches at Kanda University of International Studies in Japan.

“But giving the Ukrainians tools to directly kill the Russians, like ammunition, will be a much more contentious issue,” he added.

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