This article will evaluate Russia’s strategic interests on the Korean Peninsular. Historically, Russia has condemned the growth in North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and provocative behaviour. However, recently, under the Presidency of Vladimir Putin, Russia has changed tact and instead seeks to mollify North Korea. This position is vastly different to the Trump administration, whose policy relies on the use of assertive rhetoric towards Kim Jong-Un, in the hope that this will lead him to relinquish the nuclear weapons program. Russia and the US have undertaken different approaches to Kim Jong-Un’s dangerous nuclear weapons technology, due to both of them having contrasting strategic interests on the Korean Peninsular.
This week North Korea showcased to the world that they are well advanced in their nuclear weapons program with a historic launch of their first ICBM. The missile was named the Hwasong-14 launch and it has a wide-ranging hit zone, which the US assesses to have a maximum range of 6,700 kilometers (ABC). This means that North Korea could strike parts of the US, including Alaska and Hawaii and also, Northern parts of Australia.
Prior to the ICBM launch, many sources predicted that North Korea would not have the capacity to produce an ICBM before 2018, and more likely 2020. Hence, the world is highly fearful that there is chaotic, belligerent and vengeful leader in Kim Jong-Un, who now has the capacity to use nuclear weapons against his adversaries around his neighbourhood and against the West.
However, Russia has refuted that North Korea launched an ICBM. This position is in direct opposition to other outspoken world leaders who have all labelled it as an ICBM. Last week, on Thursday, Russia rejected a bid by the UN Security Council (including members – the US, China, Russia, Britain and France) to condemn North Korea’s ICBM missile launch. Russia rejected the labelling of the missile launch as an ICBM. The policy community has this week debated as to why Russia is being unilateral.
Russia is one of only three states that have a land border with North Korea. The other two states are South Korea and China. This year in May, Putin warned the international community to exercise caution and to stop using intimidation and coercive strategies against Kim Jong-Un and the state.
With regards to North Korea and the Korean Peninsular, Russia’s primary strategic interest is to reduce the US’s military presence on the Peninsular (The Conversation). Russia’s strategic interests are mostly contained in other parts of its regional neighbourhood. Russia is concerned with “the Ukraine, Syria, relations with NATO and the terrorist threat from radical Islamic groups” (The Conversation). Russia continuously re-affirms to the rest of the world that they will not allow the US to determine the global rules, norms, and values. It is not in Russia’s strategic interests in Asia to follow a US-led condemnation of North Korea through the UN Security Council; this position would relinquish control to the West.
Globally, a large majority of the policy community has condemned the Trump administration’s strategies towards North Korea; they suggest that Kim Jong-Un does not respond to threats. The US will need to encourage China and Russia to be a part of the mechanism to stop Kim Jong-Un’s nuclear weapons program. Both of those states have strong economic ties with North Korea and they can influence the state. In order to get Russia on board, the US will have to relinquish aspects of its role as hegemon in Asia. This transition will encourage Russia and China to accord with other states and stop Kim Jong-Un from using potentially deadly nuclear weapons on the West.
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