Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 162

Moscow’s denial of any major submarine deal with China came amidst a flurry of activity by the Russian government on another set of Asian security issues. On the first of a four-day visit to South Korea, Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev yesterday announced that Moscow would work with Seoul to prevent an expected North Korean missile test launching. Sergeev and his South Korean counterpart, Cho Sung-tae, yesterday released a joint statement “confirming that another North Korean missile launch poses a threat to peace and stability on the peninsula and in Northeast Asia.” The two ministers “agreed to closely cooperate in order to curb it.” They provided no details as to what that cooperation would involve or what joint measures they might be planning.

Russia continues to have friendly relations with Pyongyang–though not as friendly as during the Soviet period–and has offered to use its influence in North Korea to help avert another missile test there. In return for that help, Moscow has sought a place at peace negotiations aimed at easing tensions on the Korean peninsula. The Russian policy may have born some fruit yesterday. During a high-profile visit to Japan, South Korean Prime Minister Kim Jong-pil yesterday reportedly expressed his support for including Japan and Russia in the Korean peace talks. Kim’s proposal apparently calls for dialogue among six countries–the two Koreas, Japan, Russia, the United States and China–to proceed in parallel with the four-way peace talks which have until now been the format for negotiations (Kyodo, September 2) and involve the two Koreas, the United States and China.

Although Sergeev’s endorsement yesterday of the effort to avert a North Korean ballistic missile test was probably welcomed in Washington and Tokyo, the context in which his offer came provides a good deal less to cheer about. Various Russian officials and defense experts have said on a number of occasions that they believe that Washington has greatly exaggerated both the degree to which North Korea has developed its ballistic missile program, and the threat that North Korean missiles pose to both the region and the world. Following on that claim, they have accused the United States of using Pyongyang’s missile development program as a pretext to proceed with the construction of a U.S. national missile defense system.

Moscow staunchly opposes the U.S. system and has likewise denounced plans being discussed by the United States and Japan for the development of a theater missile defense system in Asia. Japan’s interest in the theater defense system is in large part a product of its own concerns over the North Korean missile development program. Japan, along with South Korea and other countries in the region, was shocked when North Korea launched a test missile last August that flew over Japanese territory and into the Pacific Ocean.

Moscow clearly does not want to see those fears translated into a regional missile defense system built under U.S. auspices. During his remarks in Seoul yesterday, Sergeev went out of his way to argue that peace and stability in Asia depend to an important degree on the continued observance by the United States of the 1972 ABM treaty. He also expressed Moscow’s concerns over considerations being given by governments in the Asia-Pacific region to the creation of a regional missile defense system. Deployment of such a system, he warned, could lead other governments in the region (read: Russia and China). to build up their own offensive weapons in response, a development that would not, he added, “strengthen security and stability” in the region.

Sergeev also underscored Moscow’s continuing opposition to a broader strengthening of the defense relationship between the United States and Japan. Aside from their discussions on ballistic missile defense, Washington and Tokyo have over the past year also moved to increase the scope of cooperation of their conventional forces in the region. “In our view,” Sergeev said, “the broadening of the functions of the American-Japanese union is counter-productive, insofar as military alliances generate concerns in third countries” (Russian agencies, September 2). On August 17 Japanese defense chief Hosei Norota used talks in Moscow with his Russian counterparts to emphasize that the Japanese-U.S. defense relationship is not aimed at any other country. Sergeev’s remarks yesterday suggest that Moscow is in no mood to be convinced.