United States inconsistency complicates cooperation with Russia on DPRK

InD) missile system, which the US has begun installing in South Korea in response to continued North Korean provocations. During his visit to Moscow, Joseph Yun insisted that missile defense was necessary to deter further North Korean aggression.

THAAD will likely not make US cooperation with Russia on Korean security any easier, and may even damage existing frameworks for Russia-US cooperation on arms control. Viktor Ozerov, a top Russian lawmaker for defense, has stated that THAAD could be an impetus for Russia to withdraw from the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START).

Nevertheless, beyond the immediate strategic tension between the Russia and the United Sates over THAAD, a major hindrance to closer Russia-US policy coordination over North Korea is a lack of clarity in the US’s security policy toward Northeast Asia.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has not ruled out allowing Japan and South Korea to develop nuclear weapons as a way of deterring North Korea. Russian officials, however swiftly condemned the idea of a nuclear Japan or South Korea. Vladimir Dzhabarov, a lawmaker on the international affairs committee of the Russian parliament’s upper house, indicated that according to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the international community could subject Japan and South Korea to economic sanctions should they develop nuclear capabilities.

Given the current US administration’s numerous changes in policy positions, it is difficult to judge the sincerity behind the insinuation that the US would encourage its East Asian allies to develop a nuclear deterrent. That the US calls for North Korean disarmament while simultaneously hinting at allowing further nuclear proliferation is contradictory at best, and at worst shows a lack of commitment to the very non-proliferation principles for which the US has so long stood.

Arms control and non-proliferation have been a major cornerstone of Russia-US relations. In the past, the United States has considered Russian involvement in regional negotiations over North Korea to be less important compared with Chinese participation. Joseph Yun’s visit to Moscow, however indicates a sincere attempt by the US to include Russia in multilateral negotiations over Korean disarmament.

If Russia, however, cannot be sure that the US stands firmly committed to maintaining an across-the-board policy of nuclear non-proliferation, then there is little use for the United States in attempting to build further rapport with Russia over North Korean denuclearization. The US, therefore, must commit to a clear policy on regional nuclear non-proliferation. Only then can Russia and the United States hope to have a basis for mutual understanding from which the two countries can cooperate over Korean security.

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