The Korea Herald


[Wang Son-taek] New strategy after the treaty in Pyongyang

By Korea Herald

Published : June 27, 2024 - 05:31

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On June 19, North Korea and Russia signed a historic partnership treaty in Pyongyang. The strategic and comprehensive treaty exceeded general predictions and was evaluated as restoring the military alliance. The restoration of the alliances drew keen attention from major media worldwide as it shook the strategic balance around the Korean Peninsula. A controversial topic of South Korea's nuclear armament has been revived in Seoul and Washington. The South Korean government also strongly condemned North Korea and Russia and warned that it would consider providing weapons assistance to Ukraine in response to Russia's actions, leading to heated debates over the smart response.

We need to respond sophisticatedly to the treaty, and it would be foolish to lose a cool-headed attitude and adopt a wrong response that means self-harm. If the wrong response in diplomacy and security causes secondary damage, it shows that Seoul is distracted and teased by the psychological warfare from North Korea and Russia. In this sense, efforts should be made to reduce the confusion about the meaning and impact of the North Korea-Russia Treaty.

First, the Yoon Suk Yeol government needs to identify the damages of the treaty regarding South Korea's diplomatic environment and take measures to compensate for the change or loss. Since the end of the Cold War, the Republic of Korea has established positive relations with Russia and sought cooperation. Russia has approved the United Nations Security Council's resolutions to impose sanctions on North Korea 11 times since 2006. Russia was in a neutral zone but has moved to a pro-North Korea zone.

On the other hand, Russia's mutual defense agreement with North Korea reflects a strategic change in its diplomatic posture in dealing with the North Korean issue. It has the effect of condoning North Korea's nuclear possession. South Korea must officially admit that it is entirely inferior to North Korea in military strength unless the international community defines North Korea's nuclear weapons possession as illegal and pressures them to denuclearize.

Second, the deterioration is anticipated due to South Korean diplomacy, which has been biased only toward the US and Japan while defining dialogue as fake peace. Numerous experts have warned of a one-sided approach since the Yoon Suk Yeol administration took office. The Yoon government has created unnecessary diplomatic controversy by ignoring the warnings and continuing hard-line policies against the North, China and Russia.

Notably, he stressed the rivalry with Russia by visiting Ukraine in July last year and chanting, "If you fight with a determination to die, you can survive; if you are afraid of dying, you will die." Russia, which had been agonizing over sending the defense minister to the so-called Victory Day event in July last year to Pyongyang, decided to send after President Yoon's chanting. With the diplomatic conflict with the South continuing, Russia increased cooperation with North Korea, leading to the summit last fall and the treaty this year. From a diplomatic perspective, the South Korean government's apparent overreaction, namely its mention of arms aid to Ukraine, seems excessive to gloss over its diplomatic failures. Such efforts may avoid inconvenient situations in the short term, but they cannot hide from the judgment of history.

Third, the South Korean government must change its military and strategic posture according to the treaty's changes, but it should be noted that this is not an urgent matter. Any country can forge military alliances with neighboring countries. North Korea also has a military alliance with China. However, this does not necessarily mean that South Korea and China are hostile to each other.

Depending on future diplomatic efforts, the North Korea-Russia alliance treaty might be a useful tool for the security of the Korean Peninsula. Russia can persuade North Korea to stop a possible invasion of the South. By increasing international intervention in the country, it will be possible to control North Korea's unexpected actions. South Korea should find a window of opportunity even in this backsliding.

Fourth, it is wrong to understand that the North Korea-Russia treaty is a circumstance that proves the advent of a new Cold War. On the contrary, it is the opposite. This episode illustrates that a new Cold War is not coming. For a new Cold War structure to be formed in the current international order led by the US, China must pursue a head-on policy of confrontation with the US, and many countries must follow China. However, China has not announced that it is welcome to the treaty. There is also no sign that it will lead to a trilateral alliance treaty between North Korea, China, and Russia. From China's point of view, Russia's voice in the Korean Peninsula issue is growing, which means that China's voice is relatively small. If China cannot control even North Korea, which borders on it, doubts about China's diplomatic capabilities will grow.

To keep pace with North Korea and Russia, China must participate in an anti-American solidarity campaign, which is not acceptable in China's situation. The most advantageous scenario for China is to take advantage of the US-led order to maximize China's economic and national capabilities. Then, naturally, the day will come when it will overtake the United States. Then, China becomes a hegemonic power without war. So why would China compete with the United States for supremacy now?

Although the signing of the North Korea-Russia treaty is at a disadvantage because it damages South Korea's security posture, it is not wise to reject it unconditionally and frustrate it at all. Diplomacy is always about seeking the best scenario under any given circumstances. If the circumstances change today, the correct answer is to upgrade yesterday's strategy to pursue a new one. A wise diplomatic strategist strives to create a new plan that suits the new environment without criticizing the changing diplomatic environment daily. It is not smart diplomacy to complain about a given situation and rely on a futile game of condemning another country.

Wang Son-taek

Wang Son-taek is an adjunct professor at Sogang University. He is a former diplomatic correspondent at YTN and a former research associate at Yeosijae. The views expressed here are the writer’s own. -- Ed.