[EDITORIALS]2 Koreas Caught in a 3-on-3 GameKim Il-chol, North Korean minister of the People's Armed Forces, and Ilya Klebanov, Russian deputy prime minister, are said to have forged two agreements on Friday in Moscow on cooperation in the field of military technology and cooperation between the two countries' armed forces. Mr. Klebanov did not disclose the details, but said that the agreements relate to the upgrading of weapons provided to the North in the past. He emphasized that the agreements would not in any way damage Russian relations with the South. We cannot help but harbor deep interest in such developments between the North and Russia, in view of recent changes in Northeast Asian politics and the policy for inter-Korean reconciliation.
The two sides reportedly have been discussing the agreements since President Vladimir Putin of Russia publicly stated during his visit to Pyongyang last July that cooperation on military equipment would be revitalized. There had been speculation when Kim Jong-il, national defense commission chairman of the North, postponed his Moscow visit slated for this month that problems in the negotiations might have arisen. That two agreements on military cooperation have been forged, given this background, makes possible the conjecture that Russia has accepted North Korea's unceasing demands.
It is still too early to assess how much Russia's military cooperation would contribute to the actual reinforcement of North Korean military forces. But reinforcement of military cooperation between the two countries could inflame the hawks within the Republican Party of the Bush administration and prevent it from reversing its policy against engaging the North. Then it would difficult to expect the early resumption of talks between the two Koreas. The recent refusal by the United States even to grant visas to North Koreans wishing to participate in the Asia Development Bank is also noteworthy.
Northeast Asia is entangled in a series of events that have happened in the United States, China, Japan and Taiwan, since the collision of a Chinese jet fighter with a U.S. spy plane. Especially as the friction between the United States and China deepens, new military cooperation between North Korea and Russia may be suspected as the formation of a second, opposing trilateral cooperation to counter the trilateral cooperation of South Korea, the United States and Japan. Russia, China and North Korea have displayed firm cooperation, with all three opposing in unison the national missile defense plans of the United States on the ground that it violates the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.
Such a confrontational structure could diminish the two Koreas' leading role in solving the problems on the Korean peninsula and further complicate the settlement of peace on the peninsula. Nonetheless, the government's analysis that the military agreements do not majorly affect South Korean relations with the North or with Russia is incomprehensibly complaisant. The government should convey South Korea's concern to Russia over its weapons support for the North and hear out an acceptable explanation.
Also, in order to prevent a deadlock in inter-Korean talks from leading both sides to boost their military capacity, measures to continue practical discussions on military issues between the two Koreas should be studied. The government should consider changing the current negotiating structure by which military issues are dealt with by the United States and North Korea, inhibiting the two Korea themselves from engaging the issues.