North Korea has spoken out against a recently signed deal between the U.S. and Australia that sees the U.S. providing nuclear-powered submarines to its Oceanic ally. The deal is an integral part of an emerging security partnership between the U.K., U.S., and Australia; somewhat adorably referred to as AUKUS.
According to NPR, an unidentified North Korean Foreign Ministry official labelled the arrangement between the U.S., Britain, and Australia an “extremely dangerous act.” The official warned of pending disequilibrium in the Asia-Pacific region that would likely result in a “chain reaction of arms races.” The North Korean critique comes in the wake of French outcries and accusations of betrayal. France and Australia previously had a deal whereby the French majority state-owned shipbuilder, Naval Group, would construct and supply the Australian government with 12 diesel-powered electric submarines. This $66 billion contract has now been flouted after “major concerns about delays, cost overruns, and suitability,” according to Reuters.
North Korea buoyed its concerns by referencing France’s dissent to construct a narrative that the U.S. cannot be trusted, even by its allies. The biggest problem for North Korea seems to be the balance of power in the Asia-Pacific region which has increasingly fallen under the shadow of growing Chinese geopolitical audacity. It is incredibly unlikely that North Korea would take violent (i.e. nuclear) steps to further augment its objection to the new ‘western hemisphere’ security pact.
North Korea has adhered to a self-regulated moratorium on intercontinental ballistic missile and nuclear weapon testing ever since the historic meeting between Chairman Kim Jong Un and former President Donald Trump. Despite rhetoric promulgated by North Korean state media, claiming that “even the smallest negative effect on our country’s safety” would be met with corresponding actions, the sanction-rattled state is prone to engaging in fiery oratory instead, bereft of tangible danger.
That being said, just this month North Korea tested a new cruise missile and has continued testing shorter-range weapons in defiance of South Korean and Japanese concerns after the collapse of diplomatic talks with the U.S. in 2019. However, the beleaguered nation is more of a threat to its deprived and indoctrinated citizens than to any foreign entity.
Another concern of the North Korean state is the likelihood that the delivery of nuclear submarines to Australia will result in “intensifying arms races.” A sardonic evaluation gave the North’s proclivity for funneling huge amounts of money to its nuclear arsenal, spending roughly one-third of its gross national income (GNI) on its defense budget.
Overall, the move by Australia to switch submarine suppliers is heavily motivated by the encroaching sinicization of the Indo-Pacific region. The U.S. would do well to re-suggest opening diplomatic talks with the North Korean state, which is a close ally of China. Were a deal of nuclear facility dismantlement in exchange for an easing of sanctions to be struck, it would surely worry the Chinese government and potentially divert its resources from warmongering with Taiwan — a beneficiary of the U.S. ‘nuclear umbrella’ — whose conflict with China would almost certainly result in a tense face-off between the world’s two current superpowers.