Prospects of N Korea-Russia arms deal deepen security concerns for US, allies

New Delhi: The US Department of Defense on Thursday described North Korea as a “persistent threat” in an updated key security document. It has warned that the North Korean regime’s  military capability advancements would give it options to use nuclear arms “at any stage of conflict”.

In a document on ‘ A  Strategy for Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction (CWMD)’, The Pentagon described China as the “pacing challenge”, Russia as an “acute threat” and the North and Iran as “persistent threats”.

The document comes close on the heels of  North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ordering unspecified steps to give further boost to relations with Russia after his recent visit to the country.

During his visit, Kim travelled to  Russia’s Far East, met with President Vladimir Putin and visited key Russian military and technology sites. The two leaders expressed their intention to  cooperate on defence issues but did not specify the nature of the cooperation, which certainly created an uneasiness in  the US and its allies in the region.

According to reports, the North Korean leader assured President Putin of his country’s  “full and unconditional support” ,  a statement which is being seen as an apparent reference to the conflict in Ukraine.

In experts’ views, Kim might be eying  sophisticated weapons technologies and economic aid from Russia in return for supplying ammunition to the country exhausted  in the conflict in Ukraine.

North Korea’s economy is reeling under sanctions, but it can still offer  Russia artillery which it badly needs. It is estimated that Russia has fired  shells last year.  North Korea has this ammunition in stores in millions. Besides, it can also offer  other weapons, such as rockets or howitzers.

The location of Putin-Kim meeting during the recent visit—the Vostochny Cosmodrome spaceport—is indicative of what might be coming up. Mr Kim may ask for access to Russian missile technology to improve its  nuclear weapons. Besides Russian satellite and submarine secrets are also on his list.

Though the immediate need for the arms deal wolud be for the conflict in Ukraine, in the long run it might trigger a nuclear arms race in the region .

The places Kim visited across Russia included aviation factories in Komsomolsk-on-Amur, a marine biology laboratory in Vladivostok, and the Russian Pacific Fleet. So for all purposes, the summit is of “strategic importance” in the relationship between the two countries  that has a definite anti-US and anti-Western colour.

The US and its  allies in the region have not missed the symbolism of Kim and Putin gifting rifles to each other at the spaceport summit during the recent visit.

Although Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that no agreements had been inked, nor was there plan to sign any, but happenings during the visit indicated otherwise.

Putin has accepted an invitation to visit North Korea, according to the Kremlin, and offered to send a North Korean to space.

Moscow also mentioned the possibility of helping North Korea manufacture satellites, which has really alarmed the US.

U.S. State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters after the KIM-Putin meeting that the cooperation announced during the visit was  “quite troubling and would potentially be in violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions.”

There are also reports that Russia has suggested three-way naval exercises with North Korea and China in the Indo-Pacific, which would mean formalizing a union between the three countries which are already listed as security threats by the US and its allies. In the view of observers, the proposal is obviously  motivated by the recently formalized U.S.-Japan-South Korea trilateral defense alliance.


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