Policy Brief No. 81
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The Russia-Ukraine War and North Korea: South Korean and Allied Responses
In this APLN Policy Brief, Jina Kim, Professor at Hankuk University for Foreign Studies, critically reviews established narratives on the influence of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on the DPRK. The policy brief argues that South Korea should ensure the smooth progress of its defense reforms while consulting closely with the United States and avoiding harsh rhetoric against North Korea.
While the world community focuses on Ukraine, tensions on the Korean Peninsula are increasing daily, which will inevitably cause dynamic shifts among states in East Asia. The key question is whether the escalation of tensions on the Korean Peninsula was an expected development, or whether it was triggered by the Ukraine crisis. A related question is how the Russian invasion of Ukraine has changed North Korea’s strategic calculus and how it poses a challenges to the new South Korean government’s ability to handle inter-Korean relations.
Ukraine is not suitable for comparison with North Korea because the two have different contexts in terms of their capability, sunk costs, and utility of nuclear weapons. Since Ukraine had no control over the nuclear weapons it inherited from the Soviet Union, it was unreasonable to keep them at a high cost after the Cold War ended. North Korea, on the other hand, chose to invest in developing indigenously its own nuclear program for its regime survival.
Ukraine and South Korea are not comparable, either. Ukraine is not a NATO member and not a treaty ally of the United States. The very existence of allied troops on the Korean Peninsula is powerful insurance against war. South Korea does not share the anxiety that no ally can come to its defense against invasion.
The Ukraine crisis will not undermine US alliance solidarity. The allied force will seek a more future-oriented relationship by strengthening extended deterrence and broadening the scope of military cooperation. This reaction can affect North Korea’s calculations about the utility of high-profile provocation: higher costs and lower returns.
About the Author
Professor Jina Kim is Dean of Language and Diplomacy Division at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies. Previously, she was Chief of the North Korean Military Division at Korea Institute for Defense Analyses and Adjunct Professor of Yonsei Graduate School of International Studies. She is on multiple advisory boards for the Republic of Korea Blue House National Security Office, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of National Unification, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Air Force, Seoul Metropolitan Government and Peaceful Unification Advisory Council. She holds a Ph.D. in International Relations from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University.