‘Bad news for Australia’: Why the security pact between Russia and North Korea is significant

Tyler Mitchell By Tyler Mitchell Jun21,2024
Key Points
  • A new defence pact between Russia and North Korea could boost Russia’s military strength in Ukraine.
  • It could also bolster North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, threatening regional security.
  • The move makes security in our region “more delicate and dangerous”, an expert says.
A new mutual defence pact between Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un is “significant” and “extremely unnerving”, experts say.
It could strengthen Russia’s efforts in Ukraine, give North Korea the freedom to bolster its nuclear weapons program, and potentially lead to a war on the Korean peninsula that could dramatically impact world security.

So what exactly is the pact, why is it worrying and what does it mean for Australia?

What is the pact?

The pledge of military cooperation was part of a strategic treaty signed during a summit in Pyongyang this week, where Putin was making his first visit in 24 years.
“It is really a breakthrough document,” Putin said at a news conference in the North Korean capital. Russian news agencies said that it provided “among other things, for mutual assistance in case of aggression against one of the parties”.
Kim said the two countries’ ties had now risen “to a new high of alliance”. He added that the new treaty “fully contributes to maintaining peace and stability in the region”.
North Korea has been under a UN sanctions regime since 2006 over its weapons programs. Being a permanent member of the , this deal sees Russia rebuke these sanctions, which includes making military deals.
The two countries have been allies since North Korea’s founding after World War II and have drawn even closer since
But until now, their cooperation has been “informal and at a distance”, Malcolm Davis, senior analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), said.
“Now the two are coming closer together as part of this axis of authoritarianism that includes China and Iran as well. So what you’re seeing is closer cooperation and direct assistance between Russia and North Korea,” he said.

“It’s a significant development, it has substantive impact and it increases the risk of a crisis that has the potential of turning into something much larger.”

How is the pact likely to impact the war in Ukraine?

The pact has come days after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that he was close to presenting Moscow a proposal for ending the war.
Matthew Sussex, a visiting fellow at ANU Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, believes this timing is not a coincidence, and may indicate Putin’s desperation when it comes to Ukraine.

“Putin is prepared to go to Pyongyang, which is a significant step. Normally it would be that Kim went to Moscow, which I think signifies that Putin’s rather desperate,” he said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy attends press conference.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy attends press conference before the Summit on Peace in Ukraine on 15 June in Lucerne, Switzerland. Source: Getty / Sedat Suna

Russia has been relying on North Korea’s weapons to attack Ukraine. South Korea recently revealed some 4.8 million artillery shells and several dozen ballistic missiles were estimated to have been sent to Russia from the east Asian nation.

Davis said the military cooperation dimension of the agreement was “really worrying” because it implied that assistance would increase and Putin may intend to escalate the war in Ukraine.
“It would certainly imply that North Korea is going to step up its production of munitions to supply to Russia and could provide additional ballistic capabilities, and this assistance would go through China.
“And if Russia over time grows stronger and if Western military support for Ukraine begins to edge off over the course of 2024, particularly , then it places Ukraine in a really bad situation in 2025.”

Trump has threatened to cut US aid to Ukraine quickly if reelected.

Should we be worried about North Korea’s nuclear weapons capability?

Most definitely, experts say.
In return for military assistance from North Korea, it’s possible that Russia may provide technical knowledge to North Korea to help them accelerate their nuclear weapons program — Putin said this week Russia “does not rule out military-technical cooperation” with the Asian nation.

North Korea has been focused for some time on building up its nuclear weapons capabilities, against the wishes of Australia and other nations.

A woman walks past a television screen showing a news broadcast with file footage of a North Korean missile test.

South Korea is a key regional security ally of the US. Source: Getty / Jung Yeon-Je

This provision of significant scientific help from Russia would give North Korea military advantage, Sussex said.

“This means potentially putting them on submarines, potentially developing space-based nuclear weapons. At the moment Americans can say to the North Koreans, ‘if you use nuclear weapons, we’ll make sure that your regime is completely destroyed’. If the North Koreans have survivable nuclear weapons, then that changes the calculus … It’s extremely unnerving.”
While Sussex doesn’t believe the move is a precursor to war, he said Russia’s support would give North Korea greater confidence to “act with impunity”.
“Efforts to bring North Korea to heel using global condemnation are now really not going to work because the North Koreans can say, we have a permanent member of the Security Council on our side who has signed military security agreements with us.

“It effectively frees Pyongyang up from global counter-proliferation efforts and creates a muddy space where acting against North Korea or acting against Russia might also be viewed as getting the other party involved.”

What does the pact mean for Australia?

Sussex and Davis believe Australia should be very concerned.
“We’re now in a much more adverse strategic environment with a dire strategic outlook,” Davis said.
With China and the Philippines also inching closer to conflict in the South China Sea, Davis believes Australia needs to start planning for a crisis “within this decade”.

“I think both these developments challenge our government’s assumption that nothing bad will happen this decade, and reinforces that perception that we’re in a much more dangerous and unpredictable strategic environment. “

Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korea's Kim Jong Un shake hands.

Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un shake hands after a welcoming ceremony in Pyongyang during a visit set to boost defence ties between the two nuclear-armed countries. Source: Getty / Gavril Grigorov

Sussex agreed the situation in our region was becoming “much more delicate and dangerous”, which is “bad news for Australia”.

“This sort of axis between two authoritarian countries signals strength and is something we should be worried about. It’s countries banding together to give the West a black eye.

“Whether or not this makes war more likely, it’s too early to tell.”

Could the pact lead to a wider war on the Korean peninsula?

since their 1950-53 conflict and the border dividing them is one of the most heavily fortified in the world.

If Russia provides more advanced military capabilities to North Korea, this increases its threat to South Korea, which could escalate into something much larger that could also threaten Japan and the United States, Davis said.

Efforts to bring North Korea to heel using global condemnation are now really not going to work.

Matthew Sussex, Australian National University

There are roughly 28,000 US troops based in South Korea, which is a key regional security ally of Washington.

“If North Korea initiates a crisis on the Korean peninsula then it could call on Russia to military assist it. That has the potential to escalate into a much wider war with Russian forces fighting US forces, Japanese forces and so forth. It increases the dangers in terms of a regional crisis escalating into a major power war,” Davis said.

Tyler Mitchell

By Tyler Mitchell

Tyler is a renowned journalist with years of experience covering a wide range of topics including politics, entertainment, and technology. His insightful analysis and compelling storytelling have made him a trusted source for breaking news and expert commentary.

Related Post

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *