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LOOKING AHEAD
08.07.2009

July 03, 2009 (the date of publication in Russian)

Alexander Sotnichenko

NORTH KOREA: HOW TO PRESERVE THE STATUS QUO?

Russia is uninterested both in a nuclear Pyongyang and a merger of North Korea into South Korea

The attempts of the Korean People's Democratic Republic to implement its nuclear program are regularly highlighted by international media. Pyongyang's behavior is hardly predictable for the global community. It is very complicated to grasp the logic and intention of the North Korean leadership, and to find out the immediate motives of the decision to enhance the program's implementation, and whether it results from external pressure (from the United States, Japan, and South Korea) or from domestic factors (Kim Chong Il's state of health and the necessity to keep the population mobilized to conserve the regime). Still, certain aspects cannot remain unsolved, as they affect Russia's security as well.

North Korea is Russia's immediate neighbor. Therefore, we have to decide whether coexistence with a nuclear state that neglects international law is tolerable for us, and to what extent Pyongyang's nuclear plans are dangerous for Russia.

North Korea's leadership has repeatedly claimed that it needs nuclear weapons as a means of deterrence. Most probably, Pyongyang is not going to use warheads against Russia or anybody else. It seems more probable that the Labor Party of Korea would like to use this technological breakthrough for guaranteeing inviolability of the state system that is now in a serious crisis.

CPDR's nuclear program is a subject of a practically unsuccessful format of the Six-Party Group, including the United States, Japan, South Korea, China, and Russia. Though the North Korean nuclear problem is really a sensitive issue, and the presently discussed ways of its solution are unfavorable for Russia, Moscow's behavior in the six-party format is rather passive.

In case of further development of Pyongyang's nuclear program and the regime's consolidation through succession of power or otherwise, Russia finds itself a neighbor of a new nuclear power. The technological level of the North Korean nuclear and missile programs is low, and therefore, possible technical mistakes are fraught, for instance, with an environmental catastrophe. Pyongyang's activities may induce South Korea and Japan to develop nuclear weapons of their own, thus doubting efficiency of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and IAEA regulations which Russia strongly supports. The North Korean bomb is one more menace to the residuals of the Yalta system, and thus to Russia's international status. The failure to prevent CPDR's nuclear effort is likely to bolster the intentions of threshold states to implement their similar plans, all the non-proliferation programs thus being undermined.

Still, the development of CPDR's nuclear program may have other implications as well. The domestic political crisis and increase of global pressure, resulting in aggravation of the food problem may inspire Pyongyang for improving relations with China, up to partial integration. In this way, China would acquire an ally with a perfectly trained army; the North Korean population's living standards would improve, while Russia would encounter a far stronger neighbor at its south-eastern borders.

On the other hand, the crisis in North Korea may eventually result in its integration into South Korea, a US ally. This outcome is hardly regarded as desirable as well.

Certainly, Russia would prefer the status quo to persist for an uncertain future, under the condition that North Korea gives up nuclear exercises. We would appreciate a calm and non-ambitious regime in Pyongyang. However, the latest events indicate that this possibility is unlikely. Therefore, Russia should play a more active role in the six-side negotiation process – as otherwise, the outcome will be decided without its involvement.


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