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What can Russia expect from world nuclear "showdowns"?

Experts argue about the consequences of provocations in the Middle East

What can Russia expect from world nuclear "showdowns"?
Photo: Qassim Abdul-Zahra

At the Admiral Nevelsky Maritime State University, the next annual situational analysis on the issue of nuclear safety on the Korean Peninsula was conducted. In contrast to the events of previous years, this time the information occasion was not only the situation around the DPRK, but also the US-Iran confrontation on the issue of non-proliferation of nuclear weapons.

The main reason for choosing such an unusual topic for situational analysis is that now the epicenter of events related to nuclear weapons is the Middle East, where Iran and the United States exchanged provocations in Iraq. The dialogue between the States and North Korea is at an impasse. North Korea announced the rejection of a moratorium on nuclear missile tests, promising to demonstrate a new strategic weapon. At the same time, the country still refrains from drastic steps. Iran, in turn, followed the United States out of the "nuclear deal", which remained for him a kind of psychological barrier that did not allow to proceed with the militarization of its nuclear program.

Despite the geographic remoteness of Iran and the DPRK, these states have long-standing cooperation and mutual understanding: both countries are under sanctions and are subject to political pressure from the United States.

For Russia, both Iran and the DPRK are extremely important from the point of view of geopolitical security. As a result, it was the mutual influence of Iran and North Korea in the development of their own nuclear programs that became the main topic of discussion of experts from Nevelsky Moscow State University, FEFU, DNIIMF and FEB RAS in the course of the next situational analysis.

From the installation report of the event, it became clear that Iran and the DPRK, being independent countries with different geostrategic positions, regimes and history, have for a long period of time maintained mutually beneficial cooperation and have many intersection points in their nuclear programs.

At the same time, the DPRK is currently refraining from taking drastic steps and statements about what is happening in Iran. In a situational analysis, the opinions of experts on the reasons for North Korea’s so restrained behavior were divided. Some believe that with the realities invested, the DPRK is forced to coordinate its policy with the interests of China, whose economic dependence is growing steadily. According to others, despite the change of the DPRK foreign minister, North Korea is still counting on resuming dialogue with the United States and, as a result, easing economic sanctions.

However, all experts agreed that sooner or later the DPRK will resume nuclear missile tests, since they are simply necessary for the further development of the country's nuclear missile potential, the improvement of which is the basis of the state’s military doctrine.

Opinions regarding Iran’s readiness to become a nuclear state were also divided. On the one hand, Iran, unlike the DPRK, is located in a region where completely different models of conflict operate. The country is constantly monitored by the countries of the Middle East, which are quick enough to make decisions on the deployment of force actions than the DPRK’s neighbors in a relatively calm region of Northeast Asia. On the other hand, the example of North Korea related to the development of its own nuclear weapons may seem so attractive to Iran that it decides to take risks. In particular, the DPRK has set a precedent, indicating that it is possible to negotiate with the United States while improving nuclear capabilities.

Returning to North Korea, experts came to the conclusion that the example of Iran’s insolvent "nuclear deal" is likely to convince the DPRK leadership of the incompatibility of the United States. As a result, the recent exchange of provocations between the United States and Iran, still not possessing nuclear weapons (at least officially), once again confirms the correctness of the path chosen by North Korea.

In general, experts' forecasts for the near future are optimistic: Iran will not go for the creation of nuclear weapons in the foreseeable future, and the DPRK will refrain from nuclear tests.

In this situation, Russia receives a number of benefits and advantages, which in particular relate to the development of the Far Eastern region of the Russian Federation. Firstly, although it is short-term, it is still stability at our borders. North Korea has repeatedly proved its ability to conduct nuclear tests in the immediate vicinity of the current capital of the Far Eastern Federal District - Vladivostok. So, on September 3, 2017, residents of the south of Primorye felt the tremors that were caused by nothing more than the explosion of a hydrogen bomb at the North Korean Pungeri training ground, located no more than 300 km from Vladivostok. Therefore, the relatively predictable policy of the DPRK in matters of nuclear testing allows the Far East to live much calmer.

Secondly, a pause in the demonstration of the new capabilities of the DPRK nuclear missile program gives Russia the opportunity to begin to implement the planned and development of existing projects with the DPRK that are not subject to international sanctions. Despite large-scale restrictions on trade with North Korea, there is still some room for maneuver in this matter. Mutual supply of consumer goods, the development of interstate humanitarian and educational programs, cultural contacts - all this can significantly strengthen Russia's position in the DPRK during the period of relative stability of North Korea’s foreign policy.

Finally, in this situation, conditions are being created for strengthening partnership relations between Russia and China against the background of political and humanitarian support for North Korea. Despite the sanctions, the PRC continues to be the main partner of the DPRK not only in politics, but also in the economic sphere. As a result, Russia, expressing its positive assessments regarding the prospects for cooperation with North Korea, as well as a negative opinion on the existing sanctions, expresses its support for Beijing’s policy on the Korean peninsula. A striking example of the rapprochement of the Russian Federation and the PRC on the basis of mutual support of the DPRK is a joint speech at the UN Security Council on December 17, 2019, when representatives of the two countries announced a joint initiative to lift a number of sanctions against North Korea.

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