North Korea-South Korea Struggle in the Framework of Global Competition

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The United States of America (USA) is struggling with many actors for its position in global politics. Especially in its power struggle against China and Russia, it is deepening its relations with South Korea and Japan. However, as the Washington administration cooperates with these two countries, it faces North Korea’s reaction. The Pyongyang administration, on the other hand, tends to improve its relations with Russia, the natural rival of the Biden administration, against the US moves. In this context, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Russian President Vladimir Putin met in Russia on September 13, 2023 to discuss military and technological issues. [1]

The long-standing rivalry between North Korea and South Korea is intensifying as global powers seek influence in the region. In this context, South Korea is oriented towards the West, while North Korea is positioned against the Seoul administration. Even though the voice of the Global South has recently become louder, the pressure on Pyongyang is still felt. In this context, it can be argued that North Korea has accelerated its steps to get rid of political isolation. In this process, it is understood that North Korea is trying to improve relations with Russia through “anti-Westernism”.

Russia is engaged in a diplomatic struggle against the US and its Western allies. Having been subjected to various sanctions by the West due to the Russia-Ukraine War, the Moscow administration is trying to develop cooperation in order to protect its position in the international system. In this framework, Russia has turned to North Korea, with which it is considered to have common interests. This is because North Korea is symbolically, if not actually, engaged in a struggle against the West. Indeed, the launch of two short-range ballistic missiles into the sea off the east coast on September 13, 2023, one hour before the meeting between Pyongyang leader Kim Jong Un and President Putin,[2] can be seen as an intimidation against its rivals.

As tensions between South Korea and North Korea continue, it is seen that the parties are turning to different power centers. It can be argued that the rivalry between the two actors has increased tensions in the region. Indeed, on September 14, 2023, South Korea’s National Security Council stated that North Korea and Russia would pay a price if they violate United Nations (UN) Security Council resolutions.[3] Due to its relations with the parties and its geopolitical position, Seoul regards the North Korea-Russia rapprochement as a security threat and seeks support against it This is evidenced by South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol’s call for China to play a “responsible”[4] role in curbing North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats.

One of the issues that needs to be emphasized is South Korea-US relations. Although the international system is rapidly moving towards a polycentric state, it can be argued that Seoul and Pyongyang continue the legacy of the Cold War. Indeed, as North Korea moves towards Russia, South Korea is moving closer to the United States as a balancer. US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller’s statement in reference to the meeting between the two leaders that more sanctions will be imposed on the two sides if they sign a new arms[5] deal is evidence that Washington and Seoul are on the same page.

It should be noted that South Korea sees the US-led West as a deterrent to balance North Korea-Russia relations. In this context, President Yeol’s Deputy National Security Advisor Kim Tae-hyo stated that the South Korean leader will travel to New York to attend the UN General Assembly and meet with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.[6] It is expected that the Seoul-Moscow meeting will be discussed during the meeting. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated that the geopolitical climate has changed since the UN imposed sanctions on North Korea on September 13, 2023.[7]

It can be argued that North Korea and Russia, coming together against common adversaries, will try to weaken the impact of the sanctions by joining forces. It is clear from the meeting between the two actors that they support each other’s policies and have a parallel attitude towards the West. Indeed, Kim Jong Un’s emphasis[8] on his belief in Moscow’s victory in the Russia-Ukraine War proves this attitude. New collaborations between the two actors are likely. In particular, Putin’s promise to help Pyongyang,[9] build satellites is an example of such cooperation.

As a result, the rivalry between North Korea and South Korea is intensifying day by day. Even though the international system has become polycentric, it can be said that the Seoul and Pyongyang administrations continue the legacy of the Cold War. As North Korea-Russia relations deepen, South Korea is turning towards the West. The support given to each other in the North Korea-Russia meeting and the reactions of South Korea and the US to this meeting show that the power struggle continues both in the region and globally. In this framework, it is possible to state that the US-Russia rivalry in global politics is also shaped by the power struggle between North Korea and South Korea.

[1] “Putin and North Korea’s Kim Discuss Military Matters, Ukraine War and Satellites”, Reuters,, (Erişim Tarihi: 14.09.2023).

[2] “North Korea Fires Two Ballistic Missiles While Leader Kim Visits Russia”, Reuters,, (Erişim Tarihi: 13.09.2023).

[3] “South Korea Warns North Korea, Russia Against Breaching UN Resolutions”, Reuters,, (Erişim Tarihi: 14.09.2023).

[4] “China Must Play ‘Responsible’ Role in Curbing North’s Threats, South Korea’s Yoon Says”, Reuters,, (Erişim Tarihi: 12.09.2023).

[5] “US Will Impose Sanctions on Russia, North Korea for Any New Arms Deals, State Dept. Says”, Reuters,, (Erişim Tarihi: 13.09.2023).

[6] “South Korea’s Yoon Heading To New York Next Week for UN General Assembly”, Reuters,, (Erişim Tarihi: 14.09.2023).

[7] “Russia’s Lavrov Says Situation Has Changed Since North Korea Was Hit by U.N. Sanctions”, Reuters,, (Erişim Tarihi: 13.09.2023).

[8] “Kim Tells Putin: Russia Will Win Against ‘Evil’ In Ukraine”, Reuters,, (Erişim Tarihi: 13.09.2023).

[9] “How Could Russia Help North Korea Build a Satellite”, Reuters,, (Erişim Tarihi: 13.09.2023).