Russia's pact with North Korea

Image: Stanislav Kondratiev


The mutual defense pact between the two countries is a geopolitical watershed because of the way it is likely to trap China and the US in a spiral of escalation.

Russia and North Korea have just signed a mutual defense pact during President Vladimir Putin's trip to Pyongyang, which followed his counterpart Kim Jong Un's visit to Vladivostok last September (analyzed here). This agreement is a geopolitical watershed for three fundamental reasons: it raises the stakes in dangerous game of nuclear chicken from the USA with Russia in Ukraine; accelerates theOrientation (back) towards Asia" from the USA; and could therefore trap China and the US in an escalation spiral that leads to new cold war out of Europe.

To explain, the first result can be interpreted as one of the promised asymmetrical answers from Russia to the fact that the West arms Ukraine. If Russia achieves a military breakthrough on the front lines that is exploited by some NATO members as a pretext to initiate a intervention conventional which result in a provocative crisis similar to the Cuban one in Europe, then North Korea could provoke its own such crisis in Asia to remind the US of the principle of “Mutually Assured Destruction” (MAD).

Valdai Club expert Dmitry Suslov, who is also a member of the Russian Council on Foreign and Defense Policy and deputy director for World Economy and International Politics at the Moscow Higher School of Economics, published an article in RT in which he noted that the U.S. “lost their fear of the mushroom cloud”. Therefore, he suggested a “demonstrative” nuclear test to scare Western warmongers, but Russia’s new mutual defense pact with North Korea could serve the same purpose.

In the Western mindset, North Korea is synonymous with nuclear fear and World War III, so knowing that it could escalate symmetrically in Asia out of solidarity with Russia in response to US escalation in Europe may make policymakers Americans think twice before crossing Russia's red lines. After all, it would be difficult enough to manage escalation into a provocative crisis similar to the Cuban one, let alone two at the same time on opposite ends of Eurasia.

Regarding the second point about the acceleration of the US “Asia Orientation”, this process is already unfolding, as evidenced by the way the US is tightening the noose of containment around China in the first island chain through its newly formed “Squad” with Australia, the Philippines and Japan. Yet the US is still clinging to its political fantasy of inflicting a strategic defeat on Russia, which is why its enhanced military presence in Europe after 2022 has not yet been scaled back and redirected to Asia.

If Russia begins to conduct regular exercises with North Korea and transfer high-tech military equipment to that country, the United States may feel coerced into accelerating its “Asia Orientation,” possibly at the expense of maintaining pressure on Russia in Europe. The abrupt rebalancing of US attention could cause some of its NATO allies to reconsider conventional intervention in Ukraine, as the US might no longer approve such intervention due to the difficulty of managing new tensions related to North Korea.

And finally, any tangible progress in accelerating the US “Asia Orientation” would reduce the possibility of this country and China normalize their ties soon, as it could catalyze a self-sustaining cycle of escalation as China responds to US moves, and then the US responds to China's, and so on. The US could not agree to reduce its military presence in Northeast Asia as part of a large speculative engagement with China due to the qualitatively greater threat posed by Russian-backed North Korea.

Since China is unlikely to agree to an asymmetric agreement with the US in exchange for the normalization of their ties or at least the reduction of US pressure on the People's Republic, such as that which would maintain any foreseeably enhanced US military presence in northeast China, Asia, this scenario can be ruled out. In this case, Sino-American ties could easily become trapped in a self-sustaining cycle of mutual escalation, which would result in the rapid replacement of Asia by Europe as the main theater of the New Cold War.

In short, Russia's mutual defense pact with North Korea is a geopolitical game-changer because of the way it is likely to trap China and the US in a spiral of escalation, which benefits the Kremlin by creating the conditions to ease American pressure. about him in Europe. However, this will take time to manifest itself, so the US may intensify escalation in Ukraine and/or open another front in Eurasia (e.g. Asia Central and / or Sul do Caucasus) before that, so things could get worse before they get better.

*Andrew Korybko holds a master's degree in International Relations from the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. Book author Hybrid Wars: From Color Revolutions to Coups (popular expression). []

Translation: Fernando Lima das Neves.

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