On December 6-7, the International Luxembourg Forum on Preventing Nuclear Catastrophe’s supervisory council held a meeting in London, moderated by Vladimir Dvorkin and Viacheslav Kantor. Dvorkin, a retired major general in the Russian armed forces, declared that North Korea’s tactical nuclear weapons had reached a state of full effectiveness.
Dvorkin specifically stated that North Korea was currently capable of outfitting tactical rockets with nuclear warheads, citing available data.
The revelation of the former Russian soldier-turned-scholar coincides with an assertion from the highest levels of the Russian government that Moscow intends to cooperate with Washington on global nuclear security. Yet the prospects of closer Russia-U.S. cooperation over North Korea remain elusive, if for no other reason than the lack of importance the U.S. attaches to the Russian presence in negotiations.
CHANGE OF TUNE
Russian president Vladimir Putin recently promulgated a new foreign policy concept in which Russia affirmed its commitment to cooperation with the United States towards nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. Viacheslav Kantor, a renowned Russian philanthropist, praised the new foreign policy concept as a beacon of hope for Russia-U.S. cooperation on nuclear security.
To be sure, Kantor was not necessarily referring specifically to joint Moscow-Washington cooperation over North Korea. The main focus, rather, is Russia-U.S. bilateral cooperation, as the new foreign policy concept specifically referred to the bilateral arms reduction treaty signed by Russia and the U.S. in 2010.
But Russia’s adoption of a new foreign policy concept that specifically highlights the importance of Russia-U.S. cooperation on nuclear security is unlikely to have a significant effect on the potential for greater Russia-U.S. cooperation over North Korea.
Moscow intends to cooperate with Washington on global nuclear security
Even if, in the highly unlikely event that Russia-U.S. relations experience a major positive turnaround in the coming years, the very reality of Russia’s lack of influence over North Korea, as perceived by Washington, especially when compared with that of China, will continue to diminish prospects for Moscow-Washington cooperation.
Recent events at the diplomatic level preceding the Luxembourg Forum’s meeting underscore the fact that the prospect of an increased Russian role in multilateral responses to North Korea is beyond the scope of merely passing resolutions, or even willing a more profound Russian role as a matter of diplomatic course.
MOSCOW DELAYS SANCTIONS
On November 23, a senior UN Security Council diplomat stated that China and the United States had reached an agreement on a new package of sanctions against North Korea in response to the DPRK’s nuclear test in September. Russia, however, had as of that time not yet agreed to the sanctions. The diplomat, speaking anonymously, claimed that it was possible for China to convince Russia to go along with the sanctions.
The implication that Russia was somehow responsible for intentionally delaying the newest resolution on sanctions drew criticism from the Russian media. Russia’s state-owned Rossiyskaya Gazeta published a summary of an interview with an anonymous source who was “well aware” of the problem.
In the interview, the unnamed source stated that the United States had a tendency to work primarily with China over North Korean security issues, given China’s vast trade with North Korea. In contrast, the U.S. routinely “ignored” Russian interests.
The source also went on to state that the reason for Russia’s delay in approving the sanctions was because of the need for interagency cooperation and agreement within the Russian government to fully agree to the terms of the sanctions. This, of course, was not the first time this year that the UN Security Council has delayed a vote on North Korea sanctions at Russia’s behest.
The implication that Russia was somehow responsible for intentionally delaying the newest resolution on sanctions drew criticism from the Russian media
SETTING ASIDE DIFFERENCES
The fact that China and the U.S. have managed to compartmentalize North Korea as an issue separate from other areas of China-U.S. discord, such as heightened tensions over the South China Sea, underscores the fact that multilateral cooperation over nuclear security on the Korean Peninsula is not contingent upon the state of overall bilateral relations between powers.
China and the U.S. have been able to cooperate over North Korea, by and large because the U.S. views China as a valuable and more-or-less indispensable partner in multilateral discussions and diplomacy regarding the DPRK.
Thus, it is not entirely the overall poor state of Russia-U.S. ties that frustrate the potential for more intimate joint coordination between Russia and the United States over North Korea. Rather, it is the perceived lack of economic leverage that Russia has over the North.
An improved Russia-U.S. relationship in the realm of international nuclear security would, of course, be to the benefit of the whole world, in a general sense. Yet its significance for Korean disarmament is relatively small.
At the governmental level, Russia-U.S. cooperation is unlikely to substantially shift toward closer cooperation, much less in a direction that Russia favors. Yet as the recent International Luxembourg Forum meeting in London highlights, there is still ample room for exchange between Russia and Western figures outside of government.
By using data and open intelligence available to those working outside government, Russia and the U.S. can hopefully continue to foster cooperation and exchange outside of formal channels.
Featured image: President of Russia
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