By Josh Smith
SEOUL, April 12 (Reuters) – NATO has not ruled out any possible new members and it is up to countries like Sweden and Finland to decide if they want to join, the head of the alliance’s military committee said on Tuesday.
“It is a sovereign decision of every nation that wants to join NATO to apply for membership, which they have not done so far,” Dutch Admiral Rob Bauer told reporters during a visit to Seoul. “We are not forcing anyone into NATO.”
The alliance had also not pressured any countries to supply weapons to Ukraine, he said.
During his visit to the South Korean capital this week, Bauer discussed the Ukrainian war, as well as military cooperation between Seoul and NATO.
The visit coincided with a video speech by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to the South Korean parliament on Monday, in which he asked Seoul for all possible military assistance, including armored vehicles and anti-aircraft missiles.
Bauer said he discussed Zelensky’s request with South Korean officials, but confirmed their position that they would only provide non-lethal assistance at the moment.
“If President Zelenskiy asks for these systems, it means he needs them,” Bauer said.
However, it was up to the South Korean government if they wanted and can send weapons, he added, noting that NATO had not asked South Korea to provide weapons and does not provide direct military itself, even if member states do.
Bauer said the non-lethal support, including bulletproof helmets and medical kits, sent by South Korea was also important.
He declined to comment on reports that Russian forces may have used chemical agents in an attack on the southeastern Ukrainian city of Mariupol. NATO judged that Russia will focus on eastern Ukraine, having started the war on too many fronts, he said.
NATO and its members will continue to provide “everything possible” to ensure Ukraine’s survival, but it would not deploy its own aircraft or troops to the country, Bauer said. (Reported by Josh Smith, edited by Ed Osmond and Susan Fenton)