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North Korea, Russia, and China: Past Cooperation & Future Prospects
Theme: Security
Published June 24, 2024
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Syd Seiler argues that recent developments in the relationship between North Korea, China, and Russia should be examined within the context of past interactions and North Korea’s geopolitical reality over the past several decades. North Korea’s pursuit of a distanced approach toward China and the Soviet Union during the Cold War, its post-Cold War management of the bilateral relationships while developing nuclear weapons, and contemporary developments within the North Korea-China-Russia triangle highlight limited shared interests and few signs of deliberate trilateralism. Despite skepticism regarding the durability of trilateralism, Seiler warns against neglecting the threat of collaboration and cooperation among the three countries. In particular, the evolving relationship between North Korea, China, and Russia holds the potential to harm the existing balance of power on the Korean Peninsula and embolden North Korea to believe that the use of force might be justified within the New Cold War structure. Seiler outlines three scenarios in which the evolution of trilateralism could lead to North Korea employing military force on the Korean Peninsula, highlighting the critical role of China and Russia in either restraining or encouraging North Korean revisionism. To properly respond to the dangerous transformation of the geopolitical environment, Seiler recommends the United States, South Korea, and like-minded states reinforce conventional and extended deterrence by convincing China and Russia that they will incur high costs for enabling North Korea’s coercive and revisionist behavior.

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