Since initiating diplomatic ties 55 years ago, both the Republic of Korea and the European Union have benefited significantly from increased cross-sectoral cooperation. In light of a new geopolitical reality, tackling common security challenges has now been pushed to the forefront of further diplomatic initiatives.

2018 marks the 55th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Republic of Korea (ROK) and the European Union (EU). Since  the first diplomatic maneuvers of 1963, the ROK and the EU have developed a strong economic partnership. Following this successful cooperation in the fields of industry, technology, science, trade, education and environment, the EU and the ROK have decided to further deepen their relationship through a so-called “Strategic Partnership”.

While the focus on trade and technology may have been justified in the past, both the EU and the ROK have realized, in light of a new geopolitical reality, that they need increased cooperation in the field of security.

Having signed this “Strategic Partnership”, the ROK is the first Asian country to ratify a Framework Participation Agreement concerning Crisis Management with the EU.

This is significant; so far, other Asian countries have only signed agreements in the fields of political and economic cooperation, mainly in the form of Free Trade Agreements.

While there is no uniform definition of EU strategic partnerships, past experience has provided a certain definition.

Urszula Pallasz, former senior advisor for the Strategic Planning Division of the European External Action Service, listed the three main elements that the EU has generated to successfully approaching strategic partnership with other countries as promoting trade and investment, looking for allies to promote multilateralism and strengthening international cooperation, and burden-sharing in security matters.

Facing new challenges such as Brexit and the migration crisis, the EU seems to be in desperate need of strategic security partnerships beyond its own geographical scope.

The Crisis Management Participation Agreement with South Korea is designed to  deal with this very issue of burden-sharing in security matters.

The agreement not only reinforces the strategic partnership but also underlines shared values and security interests. In particular, the agreement is aligned with the EU‘s Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), which is one of the EU’s  instruments for crisis management and defence cooperation.

This promotes not only holding a regular defence and security dialogue, but also formal and informal cooperation in naval operations. For example, after the Crisis Management Participation Agreement was signed in 2014, Korea closely collaborated with the EU in regional and global security fields. The ROK formally joined EU NAVFOR (the European Union Naval Force Somalia) on Feb. 27, 2017 to protect the safety of EU vessels off the coast of Somalia, especially in Operation Atlanta.

This operation was the first successful military cooperation between the EU and ROK.

Furthermore, the EU and ROK share mutual security concerns, especially regarding the issue of denuclearization of Democratic People’s Republic Korea (DPRK). This concern is not only a regional issue of security within the Korean Peninsula but also a concern for the international community at large.

The EU has strongly supported the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and supported policies and high-level diplomatic initiatives taken by the Republic of Korea.

“Pressure is not a goal in itself. Our objective has always been, is and continues to be to help open the political path for the peaceful, negotiated solution of the North Korean nuclear issue”, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini stated during a meeting between EU and ROK foreign ministers in 2018.  

The North Korean nuclear issue exemplifies that security cooperation under a Crisis Management Agreement is very much necessary both for the EU and ROK. Put into a broader context, strong cooperation in security issues between Brussels and Seoul could respond more robustly to the challenges of our day and age.

In order to cope with complex geopolitical crises, strategic cooperation beyond Europe’s borders is essential. In this sense, the instrument of a Strategic Partnership represents the EU’s response to an increasingly interdependent and complex world of international security.

Though most governments still put emphasis on economic cooperation, it is increasingly necessary to focus on common crisis management and security cooperation.

Even if the EU’s security role in North-East Asia is still very limited in terms of geographical and military scope,  strategic cooperation, such as the one with South Korea, is crucial in ensuring that the EU’s values and interests are preserved at a global level.

The Crisis Management Agreement represents a valuable opportunity for the EU to take on a more active role in preserving global stability and security.

When it comes to joint military action, common defence and security concerns, Brussels and Seoul are just starting to get to know each other.

Only time can tell whether or not this new alliance is here to stay.