[News analysis] Putin may be claiming N. Korea has its ‘own nuclear umbrella’ to gain leverage in relations with S. Korea

Posted on : 2024-03-15 16:11 KST Modified on : 2024-03-18 10:31 KST
Russian President Vladmir Putin stated in an interview Wednesday that North Korea “has its own nuclear umbrella”
Russian President Vladimir Putin during a press interview with the director general of Russiya Segodnya media group on Mar. 12 in Moscow. (Sputnik/AP)
Russian President Vladimir Putin during a press interview with the director general of Russiya Segodnya media group on Mar. 12 in Moscow. (Sputnik/AP)

Russian President Vladmir Putin stated in an interview Wednesday that North Korea “has its own nuclear umbrella.”
 
This could mean that Russia is planning on ignoring the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, also known as the NPT, and acknowledge North Korea as a nuclear-armed state. If South Korea-Russia relationships continue to deteriorate, Putin may take steps to formalize this acknowledgement.
 
Reuters reported Wednesday that Putin, in an interview with Russia’s RIA state news agency and Rossiya-1 state television, stated, “The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has its own nuclear umbrella.”
 
An expert on North Korea’s nuclear weapons and non-proliferation stated, “Putin’s taking a step forward to recognize North Korea as a nuclear-armed state with those comments, which will shake up South Korea.” The expert went on to express concern by saying, “It is possible that Putin will visit North Korea this year to formally acknowledge North Korea as a nuclear-armed state and take measures to officially cooperate with North Korea on nuclear issues.”
 
While North Korea is technologically advanced enough to have nuclear weapons, being acknowledged internationally as a nuclear-armed state is a different problem. Under the NPT, only five countries—the US, Russia, the UK, France, China—are recognized as nuclear powers, with political reasons leading to the acknowledgement of India, Pakistan, and Israel as nuclear-armed states.
 
Following in Pakistan’s footsteps?

India, Pakistan, and Israel were acknowledged as nuclear-armed states after going against the NPT to develop nuclear weapons, and North Korea is trying to follow in their footsteps.
 
According to a report reviewing North Korea’s pursuit of being recognized as a nuclear-armed states by Kim Sung-bae, senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Strategy, India and Pakistan secured their status as nuclear countries by conducting nuclear tests first and then negotiating with the US to obtain reliefs from sanctions and cooperation.
 
Israel secured its status politically through deals with the US and successfully evaded sanctions. While North Korea tried, for an extended period, to gain its status as a nuclear-armed state by negotiating with the US, the collapse of the 2018 Hanoi summit between Trump and Kim Jong-un led to the failure of such plans.
 
However, if Trump steps back into the White House, North Korea could still try to pursue a deal with Washington that recognizes Pyongyang’s nuclear program and eases sanctions.
 
North Korea is currently seeking political approval from its de facto guardian states, Russia and China, to defy international sanctions and become an internationally recognized nuclear weapon state. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and Putin are strengthening strategic ties after vowing to “continue to strengthen […] bilateral ties on all fronts.”
 
Putin, who is expected to win the 2024 Russian presidential election, held on March 15-17, may visit North Korea after his inauguration in May and make a strategic declaration to recognize North Korea as a nuclear power.
 
If Putin declares a resumption of nuclear cooperation with North Korea and offers to provide support for Pyongyang’s nuclear technology, he will be formally recognizing North Korea’s status as a nuclear weapon state.
 
It is also expected that North Korea will intensify its armed demonstrations to push negotiations toward disarmament talks instead of denuclearization.
 
Pyongyang likely to continue provocations

Senior research fellow Kim Sung-bae stated, “North Korea is engaging in belligerent rhetoric that identifies South Korea as its principal enemy and as a target for nuclear attacks in order to induce arms control negotiations by threatening to place the Korean Peninsula on the brink of nuclear war.”
 
“North Korea will escalate tensions intentionally by carrying out regional-level provocations in order to make the possibility of war on the Korean Peninsula seem more plausible,” he added.
 
Souring South Korea-Russia relations is also creating more opportunities for North Korea. Russia’s detainment of a South Korean national on charges of espionage has plunged Seoul-Moscow relations into muddier waters.
 
There is a dire need for strategic diplomacy to manage South Korea-Russia relations to avoid any situation that may put the national security of South Korea in further danger.
 
By Park Min-hee, editorial writer

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