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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Russian Nonproliferation Policy and the Korean Peninsula

Russian Nonproliferation Policy and the Korean Peninsula - Cover

Authored by Dr. Yong-Chool Ha, Dr. Beom-Shik Shin.

January 2007

46 Pages

Brief Synopsis

Efforts to resolve the threat posed to Northeast Asia's security by North Korea's nuclear proliferation through six-party negotiations are proceeding with great difficulty. As in any multilateral process, a major problem is understanding the goals and perspectives of each of the participants. This monograph focuses upon Moscow’s perspectives with regard to North Korea’s nuclear program and Russia’s own standing in Northeast Asia, as well as of the other participants in those negotiations, since their views unfortunately are not well-known or readily available in the United States.


Russia is one of the members of the six-party talks on North Korean nuclearization, but its views on how to deal with this problem do not agree with those of the U.S. Government. This signifies a gap between Moscow and Washington over the proper way to deal with proliferation and represents a change from the earlier pattern of bilateral cooperation in 1987-96 that led to significant achievements in the field of arms control and nonproliferation.

We may attribute the major differences between Moscow and Washington to several factors, but two stand out here. One is that Moscow prefers a different model of resolving proliferation issues than Washington apparently does. Moscow’s preferred option is the so-called Ukrainian model, whereby the proliferating state is induced to relinquish its pursuit of nuclear weapons through a multilateral negotiation in which it receives both economic compensation and security guarantees from its partners. This is what happened with regard to Ukraine’s inheritance of thousands of Soviet intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) after 1991. The second model, apparently preferred by the United States, is the so-called Libyan model which is based on the experience of unrelenting coercive diplomacy, including sanctions and possible threats of actual coercion, until the proliferating state gives in and renounces nuclear weapons in return for better relations with its interlocutors.

In the case of North Korea, Moscow believes that the Ukrainian model is the way in which the negotiators must proceed if they wish to bring this issue to a successful resolution. Seen from Moscow, the United States appears to be more inclined to choose, instead, the Libyan model based on its policy of threatened regime change, coercion, sanctions, etc. This disparity between Pyongyang’s intransigence and America’s inclination to coercion, which reinforces the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s (DPRK) stance, is viewed as a major reason for the current stalemate.

The second explanation for the gap between the Russian and American posture on this issue is that Russia has arrived at a definition of its interests in Korea generally, and even more broadly in Northeast Asia, that is premised on a formally equal relationship and engagement with both Korean states, even though obvious economic considerations lead it to be more involved with the Republic of Korea (ROK). This effort to achieve balanced relations also is connected to the idea that such a stance enhances Russia’s standing in the Korean question in particular and more generally throughout the region, and the most important goal for Russia is to be recognized as a player with legitimate standing in any resolution of Korean security issues. After that, it is important to prevent a war from breaking out, as well as the nuclearization of the Korean peninsula. And beyond these considerations of status, prestige, security, and interest, comes the fact that Russia wants very much to play a major economic role with both Koreas in regard to transport networks, provision of energy, and overall economic development of both states. Indeed, Russia has offered to provide North Korea with nuclear and other energy sources once it gives up its weapons program as part of a multilateral agreement.

These considerations lead Russia to oppose much of the U.S. position in the six-party talks and to incline towards China and South Korea, which is trying to maintain and extend its sunshine policy towards the DPRK. Taken together, the impact of differing interests and perspectives with regard to the best way to deal with proliferation explains, to a considerable degree, the divergence between the Russian and American positions in these talks, and why Moscow has taken the stands that it has in those negotiations.

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