North Korea and the Ukraine crisis

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North Korea and the Ukraine crisis

The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, a think tank in Washington, D.C., published a report on the implications and possible outcomes of the Ukraine conflict on Sept. 30. The report contained concerns that the conflict could be an excuse for the countries involved to attempt nuclear proliferation. As the growing danger of ISIS in Iraq and Syria has diverted the media spotlight from the Ukraine crisis, Korea could be affected more by the Ukraine conflict than the disturbance in the Middle East.

Ukraine had been a nuclear base for the Soviet Union. After the latter country’s breakup, it became the third-largest nuclear power in the world, with 176 intercontinental ballistic missile at the time. In order to remove Ukraine’s nuclear capacity, leaders of the United States, Russia and Ukraine met in Moscow in January 1994 and signed a trilateral agreement. Ukraine agreed to hand over entire nuclear arsenal to Russia in return for Russia’s guarantee of Ukraine’s security, as well as economic compensation. Later in the same year, the United States and Russia signed the Budapest Memorandum to assure Ukraine’s sovereignty and territory as it gives up nuclear weapons.

Strobe Talbott, president of the Brookings Institution and an expert on Russia, said that he was involved in the January 1994 agreement in Moscow on, as well as the later one that same year, which included a promise from Russia to respect Ukraine. But Russia has treated the agreement as if it is as worthless as the scraps of paper it was written on.

Twenty years have passed, and Vladimir Putin’s Russia has annexed the Crimean Peninsula and is orchestrating a civil war in Eastern Ukraine.

One problem is that the Ukrainian civil war is not likely to be limited to Ukraine. Despite the pressure of the international community, North Korea clings to its nuclear program and may use the Ukrainian case as an excuse for nuclear development. At the United Nations General Assembly last month, North Korean Foreign Minister Lee Su-yong said that the nuclear program is a matter of survival and independence. North Korea claims that it is developing nuclear weapons because of the threats on its system due to the hostile policy of the United States.

This logic is completely unreasonable. The hostile policy originates from North Korea. If North Korea had not started the 1950-53 Korean War, there would be no reason for U.S. Forces to be stationed on the Korean Peninsula.

But Pyongyang has always claimed that its nuclear weapons were for self-protection. And now it wants to use the six-party talk as a chance to normalize relations with the United States with the premise that the North is recognized as a nuclear power. Regardless of the Ukrainian crisis, North Korea has held fast to its nuclear weapons.

North Korea can exploit the Ukrainian situation to its advantage. The crisis in Ukraine should be resolved to discourage Pyongyang, among many other reasons.

*The author is the Washington correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 11, Page 30

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