Jang-Hyun PaikOperational Research Committee Chairman,Catholic Institute of Northeast Asia Peace North Korean Chairman Kim Jong-un and Russian President Vladimir Putin met at the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia’s Amur Region. The Kim-Putin summit, held at Russia's Vostochny Cosmodrome on September 13th, is causing a big stir. In these meetings, North Korea emerged as a critical variable capable of shaking up the global security environment—not only Northeast Asia—including the U.S. mainland. The North Korean nuclear issue, which has remained unresolved for 30 years, has now escalated to a point of causing great concern worldwide, beyond Korea and East Asia. Although there was no joint statement released from this North Korea-Russian summit, observers noted that discussions were about President Putin providing satellite technology to North Korea in exchange for conventional weapons, such as artillery shells, sent to Russia as it wages war in Ukraine. Easing North Korean Isolation This summit broke the 30-year pattern of North Korean isolation. At the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s, after establishing diplomatic relations with South Korea, North Korea's traditional allies, Russia and China, treated North Korea poorly—essentially neglecting it. The North Korean food shortage of the mid-1990s resulted in hundreds of thousands of people dying of starvation and was due to natural disasters, such as droughts and floods, occurring in this context of North Korea’s international isolation. Seeking a way to survive, post-famine North Korea made the risky choice to develop nuclear weapons in hope of normalizing relations with the United States. The United States used bilateral and multilateral negotiations, with the support of China and Russia, in an attempt to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue and to incorporate North Korea into a U.S.-led international order. Beginning after North Korea's first nuclear test in 2006, China and Russia, both permanent members of the UN Security Council, further isolated North Korea by voting to sanction it in 11 UN resolutions. Meeting of the North Korea Sanctions Committee, United Nations’ Security Council (Photo Credit: UN Source, SPN Seoul Pyongyang News (http://www.spnews.co.kr) Despite much effort, when the North Korea-U.S. summit in Hanoi ended without an agreement in February 2019, North Korea all but gave up on normalizing relations with the United States and devoted itself to upgrading its nuclear force. Since then, the international situation has changed significantly. After President Biden took office, the United States intensified its strategic competition with China. Then, the Ukraine war broke out in February of last year. The United States defined China as a “challenge” and Russia as a “threat”—strengthening its siege on China through various means, including the Quad, AUKUS, and forming a trilateral alliance between Korea, the U.S., and Japan, as well as imposing economic sanctions on Russia with the G7. In response, China and Russia declared their own “no-limits partnership.” This changing situation gave North Korea some breathing room. For North Korea—which was barely maintaining its isolated existence with limited support from China—increasing antagonism between South Korea, the United States, and Japan against North Korea, China, and Russia is a golden opportunity. North Korea-Russian cooperation is basically the result of combining Russia's interest in maintaining its presence on the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia and North Korea's interest in breaking out from international isolation to expand its diplomatic influence. From the North Korean perspective, cooperating with Russia was its top diplomatic goal, not only because it makes economic sense but because it serves to balance their extreme dependence on China. Moreover, this Vostochny summit was advantageous for North Korea because it occurred at a time when Russia is suffering from a shortage of artillery shells in the war in Ukraine and desperately seeks North Korea’s support. This makes it difficult for Russia to deny any of North Korea's demands. The North Korea-Russian summit in Vladivostok in April 2019 did not yield as many results because, in the aftermath of the North Korea-US summit in Hanoi, North Korea was reaching out to Russia from a position of needing urgent support, facing domestic and international difficulties. At that meeting, North Korea appeared to have received some economic benefits, such as energy and food, in addition to satellite technology support from Russia. Next Level Arms Race During the Vostochny summit, North Korea and Russia dealt a huge blow to the United States by both increasing their level of military cooperation and ignoring UN sanctions against North Korea. This cooperation moves ahead with a clear strategic goal to challenge the U.S. If North Korea provides Russia with conventional weapons, such as artillery shells, it will prolong the Ukraine War and increase the U.S.’ burden and war fatigue. Moreover, as President Putin mentioned, if Russia provides satellite technology to North Korea, North Korean ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missiles) will improve dramatically. And, if North Korea acquires nuclear submarine technology, the United States will have to worry about tracking North Korean submarines in the Pacific Ocean. This would be a dire security threat for the the U.S. Additionally, this summit served to reorganize Northeast Asia into opposing alliances of North Korean and Russian military cooperation versus the trilateral alliance of South Korea, the United States, and Japan. The predictable effects of the U.S., South Korea, and Japan’s deepening military ties, as agreed upon at the Camp David summit last August, have become reality. If China follows this trend, we could see military cooperation between North Korea, China, and Russia. Joint military exercises between North Korea, China, and Russia would risk the East Sea and the entire Korean Peninsula becoming the front line of a heated war where dueling trilateral alliances face off. Fortunately, it is unlikely that China will participate in such trilateral military cooperation—despite its deteriorating reputation internationally and declining relations with Western countries, including the United States. In the future, the arms race in Korea and greater Northeast Asia will enter a new dimension. If North Korea's reconnaissance satellite launch scheduled for October succeeds—announced after launch failures in May and August—the whole world will pay attention because the launch technology for satellites and ballistic missiles are the same. North Korea’s success in launching a future ICBM would rapidly increase the security threats to South Korea, the United States, and Japan. Depending on how U.S.’ responds to such a threat of nuclear attack on its homeland, an international crisis could ensue. It is no longer possible for the United States to levy sanctions against North Korea in the UN, as China and Russia use their veto power to protect it. This may leave the U.S. no suitable means of response. Domestic public opinion in Japan and South Korea may also rapidly shift toward developing their own nuclear weapons. Pandora's box has been opened. The arms race in Northeast Asia is going next level. South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, who took the lead in creating the current confrontational structure between South Korea, the United States, and Japan against North Korea, China, and Russia, told the Associated Press on September 17th, “Military cooperation between North Korea and Russia is illegal and unjust,” and “The international community will unite more tightly in response to such a move.” In such a serious matter, for a President who is supposed to protect the lives and property of his people, these remarks are too leisurely and irresponsible.