Here’s What Moscow Plans to Do About North Korea’s Nuclear Ambitions

Last Friday, Pyongyang announced that it had carried out another nuclear test, the fifth and largest since the country began pursuing nuclear and ballistic missile programs a decade ago. The test led to unanimous condemnation from the international community, particularly from the United States and its South Korean and Japanese allies, but also from Russia and China.

The US responded to the test by flying two B-1B nuclear-capable bombers over the Korean peninsula, prompting warnings from Pyongyang that US military maneuvers could lead to an ‘explosion’.

Russia and China also condemned the test, the foreign ministries of both countries stressing “the importance of ensuring that all parties concerned refrain from steps that could further escalate tensions,” according to a Russian Foreign Ministry statement.

A South Korean soldier watches a TV broadcasting a news report on Seismic activity produced by a suspected North Korean nuclear test, at a railway station in Seoul, South Korea, September 9, 2016.

But as the crisis on the peninsula continues to escalate, and to suck neighboring countries in through dangerous initiatives such as the deployment of US missile defense in South Korea,Russian experts have started asking critical questions about the cause of the crisis, and how Moscow might partner with its regional allies to help resolve it.

In an analysis for Russian news site PolitRussia, independent journalist and political analyst Evgeny Radugin suggested that the key to resolving the crisis stems from understanding the fact that Pyongyang presently sees nuclear weapons as the only guarantee of their survival against attack by the US or its allies. At the same time, he noted that in their effort to ensure their security, North Korea has simultaneously become a threat to global security.

Pyongyang has managed to tick off even China, which had always been a natural ally to North Korea in the past, the journalist emphasized. “Beijing had good communication with Kim Jong-un’s father, and restrained Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions. But Kim Jong-un has managed to significantly complicate relations not only with world powers, but also with their closest neighbor.”

In this regard, it’s notable, according to the journalist, that Kim has never made an official visit to China, or even met with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

“Russia and China are the only two countries that continue to engage in dialog with Pyongyang. The recent nuclear test in the peninsula has complicated the already delicate regional balance. Everyone understands that a war on the Korean peninsula would have far-reaching and unpredictable consequences.”

Commenting on the September 9 test, Xinhua news agency emphasized that “all parties, including North Korea, must recognize that chaos on the peninsula, war and instability in Northeast Asia, will not benefit anyone.” At the same time, the agency added, it’s important to take into account that the militarization of South Korea is one of the main motivations for Pyongyang to carry out its nuclear testing. Seoul, for instance has confirmed the deployment of the US THAAD missile defense system on its territory.

“The South Korean decision,” Radugin emphasized, has alarmed not only Pyongyang, but also Beijing and Moscow. It’s obvious that the introduction of these weapons to the region will lead to an escalation of tensions. Instead of trying to douse tensions, Seoul and its allies have increased them.”

In response to North Korea’s test, the South Korean military has even published an attack plan, threatening to ‘raze Pyongyang to the ground’ and to destroy the North Korean leadership’s headquarters with ballistic missiles and high-explosive shells.

“It’s obvious,” the Radugin noted, “that such a response flows in the wake of US policy. After all, North Korea recently proposed to South Korea, the US and Japan a ‘moratorium on a moratorium’,” with North Korea promising to halt its nuclear and missile tests in exchange for an end to large-scale military exercises by the US and its allies along the country’s borders. But the US and its allies rejected the proposal. If Washington and Seoul had agreed to at least attempt to engage in talks regarding Pyongyang’s initiative, perhaps the international community wouldn’t be dealing with the fallout from the latest nuclear test, the journalist suggested.

At the same time, North Korea’s leaders have to take responsibility for their actions, Radugin emphasized.

Instead of working to ensure its security by searching for allies in the region, Pyongyang is instead trying to get what it wants by force. “Following the latest test, [France] called on the international community to ‘unite in the face of this new provocation’, China has offered six-party talks, and Moscow has demanded compliance with UN resolutions.”.

Residents in a rural South Korean town shout slogans in protest of a plan to deploy an advanced U.S. missile defense system called Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, in their neighborhood, in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, July 21, 2016

“UN Security Council Resolutions must be implemented. We will send an appropriate, strong signal about this,” Lavrov said, soon after the September 9 test was confirmed.

Unfortunately, Radugin noted, Tokyo too has lined up with Washington’s position, which comes down to tougher sanctions against Pyongyang. “But this is Washington’s main miscalculation. Even the US’s own intelligence officials are attempting to convince the Obama administration that sanctions are absurd.” This, the journalist noted, has everything to do with the autarkic nature of the North Korean economy, with sanctions actually serving only to strengthen the government.

Ultimately, the journalist emphasized, the central problem in the Korean nuclear crisis “that the DPRK has decided to behave like the US,” to pursue their interests “without accounting for anything or anyone. The only difference comes down to capabilities and size. Washington’s logic is that strength gives them the right to push the world around. Pyongyang is convinced of the same, and so is growing its capabilities without a backward glance.”

“The only promising avenue is the resumption of six-party talks. It’s a format that no one formally objects to, but the conditions being put forward by the triumvirate of the US, Japan and South Korea aren’t acceptable to anyone, either. Only Russia and China use the ‘language of the possible’.” Accordingly, Moscow and Beijing must work using the exiting platform to convince Pyongyang on the one hand, and the US-led triumvirate on the other, to reach a compromise.

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