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Volume XIII, Number 2 (November - December 2002)

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Strategic Studies Institute
US Army War College

By violating openly numerous international arms control treaties and accords, North Korea has demonstrated that it is a treacherous partner and a threat to all its interlocutors, including Russia. Although Russia has only now expressed nervousness about North Korea's proliferation and violation of prior accords, Moscow clearly continues to dream of economic and military partnership with Pyongyang and other proliferators.1 Indeed, Russian diplomats and officials recently publicly proclaimed that they still lack credible evidence that North Korea or Iraq seek nuclear weapons,2 and therefore viewed placing additional pressure upon these governments as unjustified. Similarly, Moscow has refused to forego its programs in Iran that assist Tehran's efforts at nuclear proliferation.3

Although Washington is now backtracking from charges that Russia has assisted North Korea's proliferation, its evidence apparently points in that very direction.4 Moreover, those claims had built upon earlier charges of Russian assistance for North Korea's missile and nuclear programs. Such charges never were proven definitively but evidently they did have some substance.5 Indeed, despite its formal collaboration in the war on global terrorism, Moscow continues to act like a "rogue proliferator" even as its officials regularly decry the rise of proliferation threats and admit clearly that such threats endanger Russia more than they do America.6

To understand why Russia continues acting thus, one must remember certain attributes of the Soviet/Russian defense industry. This sector remains unreformed in key ways, not least its disproportionate access to the state and its resources. Its structures and its leaders will continue to seek to insulate themselves against the global economy and demand special privileges beyond the norm for defense industries in advanced economies. Moreover, this sector's spokesmen consistently repeat Stalinist mantras that the defense industry embodies the Russian economy's technologically most advanced branch or branches, that it draws upon the most qualified personnel, etc. Therefore the state should grant the sector privileges so that it can become again the locomotive of a general economic recovery.7 President Vladimir Putin and many key officials have stated explicitly that the defense industry is the engine of recovery and have endorsed increases in defense spending.8

The failure to reform this sector is reflected in trends concerning Russian economic growth since the crisis of 1998. As much of the recovery in industrial production has come from the revival of defense production, Putin's belief about that sector's locomotive capabilities is not unfounded, assuming that he would be content to see Russia stuck on a widening plateau without depth, i.e., that remains technologically backward. Actually, there exists much unused but quite usable production and even surge capability in Russia's defense industrial base, especially if it can be augmented by linkages to plants elsewhere in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and to new sources of capital. Not surprisingly, two of Putin's most critical policy initiatives have been to reintegrate the CIS and its defense facilities around Russia while reorganizing his own defense industry.

By reintegrating the former Soviet defense industrial network's conventional and nuclear capabilities, Moscow can regain access to previously lost defense-industrial capabilities. Moscow pursues this reintegration because the lack of an integrated system within the CIS means that it cannot strike deals that would otherwise benefit those military-industrial firms which are on the verge of bankruptcy, i.e., those that cannot compete. Moreover, since Moscow still cannot produce crucial weapons systems such as nuclear-powered submarines and submarine-launched ballistic missiles without the participation of a host of contractors spread out across the CIS, it has assumed the economic burden (which may be justified politically given the propinquity of the CIS) of subsidizing the defense purchases of the other CIS members.9

By doing so Russia also obtains other "plausibly deniable" outlets for arms sales that it would rather not announce. While arms sales to North Korea have continued at a low level and Pyongyang is interested in state-of-the-art systems, the West never has been able to find the "smoking gun," so to speak.10 One reason for this is now visible in the scandal surrounding Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma's alleged authorization of the sale of the Kolchuga air defense system to Iraq.11 It is not for nothing that State Secretary Yuri Khozyairov wrote that Russia must lobby internationally to prevent the creation of "blacklists of arms importers that may include Russia's traditional partners - such as Syria, Libya, Iran, North Korea, and Cuba."12 One way to circumvent such blacklists is to use Moscow's connections to Kyiv and Minsk. Ukraine and Belarus are both striving to expand their arms sales and the Russian press has long since grasped that those two countries, which both sell weapons to Iraq and other undesirable buyers, are convenient covers for Russia, which often does not want systems traced back to it.13

Given this neo-Soviet approach, the stress on arms sales not only testifies to the failure of reform of the military economy, but also that these arms sales are surrogates for reform in order to keep the old order afloat. In defense of this neo-Soviet outlook and policy, Putin has observed that,


The unique peculiarity of military-technical cooperation is that it lies where several important areas meet international activities in general, military-political work both inside the country and abroad, and trade and economy. - Judging from the volumes that military-technical cooperation gives to the country's budget, this is one of the most important areas for us. - It is common knowledge that the export of weapons and military hardware earns the budget considerable sums in currency. These means allow us to maintain cooperation between science and industry in the country, preserve the scientific and industrial potential and keep personnel at defense enterprises.14


This perspective is aligned moreover to a strategic outlook that demands competition with Washington whatever the cost. Unless and until the idea of competition with the United States and great power fantasies are overcome, pressure from the military-industrial complex to produce for the wrong world and to delay reforms will continue to stunt globalization's competitive thrust that could stimulate the growth of the Russian economy and its technological leap forward.


Russia and North Korea

These factors help explain arms sales to North Korea and covert proliferation. Some Russian goals for its Korean policy are well-known, e.g., its determination to play a visible public role in the "peace process" and the obvious gains Russia would obtain from the transport and trade fees it will receive from this project.15 More broadly, Russian foreign policy objectives are to reestablish Russia as a world power, safeguard the stability and integrity of its Eurasian landmass, and participate in international trade and finance.16 Its Korea policy reflects these and subordinate regional objectives. Russia successfully rebalanced its relations with North and South Korea after the 1990s (when it renounced friendship with Pyongyang in favor of Seoul only to get fewer benefits than it expected by doing so).17 Moscow also contends that ties to North Korea foster the mutual confidence needed to further the inter-Korean process and the larger goal of bringing so-called "rogue states" (not Moscow's term) out of isolation and into international participation; undoubtedly this is intended to facilitate Moscow's continuing quest for what it calls a multipolar world not dominated by Washington.18 By gaining visibility in the inter-Korean relationship and international processes around Korea, Russia clearly enhances its status in Asia as a legitimate player that must be consulted on all vital issues - or at least so Moscow always professes, because all too often it still pursues status rather than responsibility in Europe and Asia.19

Nevertheless, other equally significant, but perhaps less visible, objectives figure prominently in Russia's hopes for this project. In general, Russia's Korea policy seeks to leverage its regional status vis-à-vis its principal challengers, America and China, and to force them to reckon with Russia in Korea and Asia. Russian elites and analysts have observed frequently that American policies since 1991 have tended to marginalize and even exclude Russia from Northeast Asia.20 Thus Russian elites charged that Washington sought to monopolize the Korean peace process and North Korea's foreign relations.21

But beyond those considerations, Russian foreign policy originates in Russia's domestic conditions and politics and its priority objective is the pursuit of tangible material benefits for economic gain.22 Its Korea policy, like so many other issues on Russia's agenda, has been a bone of contention between "Soviet" thinkers who wish to retain a traditional policy and those who wish to follow a more pro-Western path. When the turn to South Korea failed to provide the expected gains after the fall of the Soviet Union, those who always supported friendly ties to former Soviet allies such as North Korea were emboldened to intensify their efforts to initiate a rapprochement with Pyongyang. This effort began in 1992-93 when Russia failed to make a breakthrough with Japan and turned instead to China; however, ties with North Korea began to improve only after 1996 when Yevgeny Primakov became foreign minister.23 Since then Moscow has improved its connection to Pyongyang without sacrificing its relationship with Seoul. This trend seems to validate those elites who believe that Russian interests and the pursuit of peace in Korea justify both close ties and military sales to North and South Korea. Indeed, the justification for policies to either Korea now resides in the concrete material results achieved thereby.24 Programs such as the Trans-Siberian-Trans-Korean railway (TSR-TKR) win Korean support and enable Moscow to maneuver more freely in East Asia.

This "two-level game" is essential to understanding Russia's overall foreign policy in Northeast Asia, not just in Korea. Any successful Asian policy depends upon developing Russia's Far East and vice versa.25 The failure to develop Russian Asia is perhaps the most important factor that prevents Moscow from playing a significant role in East Asia generally.26 Russian authorities must do more to revive the region than simply trying to persuade its elites and citizens that China is their friend. Moscow must obtain tangible material rewards for its exertions in Asia. That means getting beyond an economy which depends upon limited amounts of raw material and energy exports that continue at the expense of future trade competitiveness and development.27

Today Moscow sees the answer to regional shortcomings as political centralization, taking ever greater control away from the regional governments while attempting to create large-scale international consortia to develop energy, electric power and power-engineering projects.28 Such energy development projects center around Siberia and Sakhalin; indeed, large-scale electric power and engineering deals involving Sakhalin's oil have been discussed with China, Japan, South Korea and even India. While that project is underway, to date few other projects have materialized and the benefits of domestic centralization remain moot.

Therefore, in 2000-01 Putin announced a broad vision of Russia's politico-economic place in Asia. He particularly stressed Russia's "natural" role as a geographic bridge linking Asia, Eurasia and Europe. This linkage was to be accomplished by the joint development of major projects that extend beyond energy, electricity and power engineering, potentially including whatever high-tech Russia can bring to those fields, to include all forms of transportation (i.e., rail, sea, air and space satellites and communication).29

On the military side, arms sales also are expected to rescue the defense industry and to continue to gain leverage and friends in Korea and elsewhere. Thus the roots of Russia's ongoing "rogue proliferation" lie in the political economy of an unreformed defense sector and an incorrigibly anti-American worldview. While Russia's specific policies toward Iraq, Iran and North Korea partake of many diverse elements, those domestic inputs and strategic calculations are common to all three cases. This policy profile originates in Russia's incomplete transformation and tempts it consistently to dangerous and high-risk policies. And, lastly, this policy formation renders Russia a most inconstant and unstable partner of the United States. Thus, ongoing demilitarization of industry and of policy outlooks, the democratization of Russian politics, and greater prosperity and security all are linked. In the final analysis, Russian security problems in East Asia and the Middle East reflect not just local security issues but also Russia's unconsummated democratization.




1 Judith Ingram, "Russia Says North Korea's Explanations of Its Alleged Nuclear Program Are Insufficient," Associated Press, 31 October 2002.

2 Ibid; Colum Lynch, "France and Russia Raise New Objections to Iraq Plan," Washington Post, 23 October 2002.

3 Peter Baker, "Russia Resists Ending Iran Project," Washington Post, 22 October 2002.

4 Sergei Blagov, "Russia Follows Its Own North Korean Agenda," Asia Times, 25 October 2002.

5 Jim Mann, "North Korean Missiles Have Russian Roots: Explosive Theory Suggests," Los Angles Times, 6 September 2000: retrieved from Lexis-Nexis.

6Stephen Blank, "Russia as Rogue Proliferator," Orbis, Vol. XLIV, No. 1, Winter 2000, pp. 91-107.

7Stephen Blank, "Challenging the New World Order: The Arms Transfer Policy of the Russian Republic," Journal of Slavic Military Studies, Vol. VI, No. 2, June 1993, pp. 234-261; Kimberley Marten Zisk, Weapons, Culture, and Self-Interest: Soviet Defense Managers in the New Russia (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997); Alexander Kennaway, The Russian Political Economy 1999 (Surrey, UK: Conflict Studies Research Centre, Sandhurst, 1999), p. 9; and Alexander Kennaway, "What Can the Military-Industrial Complex of Greater Russia Deliver in the Next Decade?," in Michael Crutcher, ed., The Russian Armed Forces At the Dawn of the Millennium (Carlisle Barracks, PA: Center for Strategic Leadership, US Army War College, 2000), pp. 169-187.

8 Interfax, 15 December 1999; ITAR-TASS, 6 November 1999: retrieved from FBIS; Nezavisimaya gazeta (electronic version), 22 July 1998: retrieved from FBIS-SOV-98-222; Izvestiya, 24 December 1996: retrieved from FBIS-SOV-96-248; Nezavisimaya gazeta (electronic version), 22 July 1998: retrieved from FBIS-SOV-98-222; Izvestiya, 24 December 1996: retrieved from FBIS-SOV-96-248; and Nezavisimaya gazeta, 18 March 1998: retrieved from FBIS-SOV-98-077.

9 Yuri Karnakov, "The Generals Press On With CIS Integration," Russkiy telegraf, 3 April 1998: retrieved from Lexis-Nexis; ITAR-TASS, 20 June 2000: retrieved from FBIS-SOV-2000-0621; Interfax, 28 September 2000: retrieved from FBIS-SOV-2000-0928; Igor Khripunov, "Russia and Global Security: Approaches to Nuclear Arms Control and Nonproliferation," NBR Analysis (Seattle, WA: National Bureau of Asian Research, August 2001), Vol. XII, No. 4, p. 8.

10Mann, op. cit.

11For a summary of the development of the issue of Ukrainian arms sales to Iraq, see Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Poland, Belarus and Ukraine Report, Vol. IV, No. 37, 1 October 2002.

12Robert Anderson, Stephen Fidler, Andrew Jack, Stefan Wagstyl and Tom Warner, "Comment and Analysis: The Former Soviet Republics Are Accused of Supplying Weapons to Rogue States in Defiance of United Nations or US Embargoes," Financial Times, 21 October 2002.

13Kommersant, 19 July 2000: retrieved from FBIS-SOV-2000-0719; "Belarus Foreign Ministry Promotes More Arms Exports," Interfax-Military News Agency, 1 November 2002.

14 "Russia Plans Increased Earnings from Military Cooperation," ITAR-TASS News Agency, 21 March 2001: retrieved from Lexis-Nexis; and Craig Covault, "Russian Air Force Faces Deepening Crisis," Aviation Week & Space Technology, 5 March 2001, pp. 61-63.

15Nodari A. Simonia, "TKR-TSR Linkage and Its Impact on ROK-DPRK-Russia Relationship," The Journal of East Asian Affairs, Vol. XV, No. 2, Fall-Winter 2001, pp. 180-202; James Clay Moltz, "The Renewal of Russia-North Korea Relations," The North Korean Nuclear Program: Security, Strategy and New Perspectives from Russia (New York: Routledge, 2000), pp. 199-201; Valery Denisov, "Korean Reconciliation and Russia's Interests," International Affairs, No. 2, 2002, pp. 41-45. Denisov was Russia's ambassador to North Korea.

16Testimony of Celeste Wallander, Director and Senior Fellow, Russia and Eurasia Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies, before the East Asia and the Pacific Subcommittee of the House Committee on International Relations, "Russian Foreign Policy Objectives and Opportunities," 15 November 2001.

17Seung-Ho Joo, "Russia and Korea: The Summit and After," Korean Journal of Defense Analysis, Vol. XIII, No. 1, Autumn 2001, pp. 103-127; Denisov, op. cit., pp. 41-45.

18Ibid.; Henry Kissinger, "Foreword," in Igor S. Ivanov, The New Russian Diplomacy (Washington, DC: Nixon Center and Brookings Institution, 2002), pp. 64-69.

19 This phrase was originally coined by Robert Legvold in regard to Russia's European policies in 1997 but it still has general validity. Robert Legvold, "The 'Russian Question'," in Vladimir Baranovsky, ed., Russia and Europe: The Emerging Security Agenda [Oxford; Oxford University Press for the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), 1997], p. 67.

20 "North Korea's Kim in Return Visit to Russian Far East," Current Digest of the Post-Soviet Press, Vol. LIV, No. 34, 18 September 2002, pp. 6-7; and Vladimir I. Ivanov, "Russia on the Pacific: Beyond Communism and Confrontation," in Barbara K. Bundy, Stephen D. Burns and Kimberley V. Weichel, eds., The Future of the Pacific Rim, Foreword by Boutros Boutros-Ghali (Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 1994), pp. 186-197.

21 Yevgeny P. Bazhanov, "Russian Views of the Agreed Framework and the Four-Party Talks," Moltz and Mansourov, eds., North Korean Nuclear Program: Security, Strategy, and New Perspectives from Russia (New York, NY: Routledge,1999), pp. 220-222.

22 Ivanov, op. cit., pp. 7-9, 13-14.

23 Seung-Ho Joo, op. cit., pp. 107-108.

24 Yonhap, 30 March 2000: retrieved from FBIS-EAS-2000-0330, quoted in Ibid.

25 For a comprehensive analysis, see Judith Thornton and Charles E. Ziegler, eds., Russia's Far East: A Region At Risk (Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 2002); also Duckjoon Chang, "The Russian Far East and Northeast Asia: An Emerging Cooperative Relationship and Its Constraints," Asian Perspective, Vol. XXVI, No. 2, 2002, pp. 41-75.

26 Ibid.

27 Pavel Minakir, "Influence of the 1998 Financial Crisis on the Russian Far East Economy," and Alexander S. Sheingauz, Victor D. Kalashnikov, Natalia V. Lomakina, Grigory I. Sukhomirov, "The Russian Far East's Comparative Position in Northeast Asian Markets," in Thornton and Ziegler, pp. 65, 117-132

28 "President Putin Urges Radical Changes in Policy in Russian Far East," ITAR-TASS, 21 July 2000: retrieved from Lexis-Nexis; Nodari A. Simonia, Russian Economic News, 20 October 2001, pp. 182-187: retrieved from Lexis-Nexis; "Russian Government To Give Priority to Development of Far East," Rosbusiness Consulting Database, 23 October 2001: retrieved from Lexis-Nexis; ITAR-TASS, 30 December 2000: retrieved from FBIS-SOV-2000-1230; AFP (North European Service), 3 January 2001: retrieved from FBIS-SOV-2001-0103; "Project of S. Korea-Japan Undersea Tunnel Grabs New Spotlight," Asia Pulse, 2 October 2002: retrieved from Lexis-Nexis; "Russia Hopes for Japan's Cooperation in Building Pipeline,", 13 October 2002; Tokyo Shinbun, 18 June 2001: retrieved from FBIS-SOV-2001-0618; and Izvestiya, 16 June 2001: retrieved from FBIS-SOV-2001-0616.

29 Vladimir Putin, "New Perspectives in the East," Nezavisimaya gazeta, 14 November 2000: retrieved from Lexis-Nexis.


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