North Korea, Russia agree to offer military assistance if either is attacked

The new partnership treaty will replace bilateral treaties that North Korea and Russia agreed earlier.
By Taejun Kang for RFA
2024.06.20
Taipei, Taiwan
North Korea, Russia agree to offer military assistance if either is attacked Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un pose for a photo during a signing ceremony following bilateral talks in Pyongyang, North Korea, June 19, 2024.
Sputnik/Kristina Kormilitsyna/Kremlin via Reuters

UPDATED at 11:34 a.m. on June 20, 2024.

North Korea and Russia have agreed to offer military assistance “without delay” if either is attacked under a new partnership treaty signed after a summit between their leaders on Wednesday.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Russian President Vladimir Putin met in Pyongyang for talks aimed at bolstering their economic and security relations and underscoring her defiance of Western sanctions.

North Korea’s state-run Korean Central News Agency, or KCNA, reported details of their new pact on Thursday, as Putin was beginning a visit to Vietnam.

“If one of the two sides is placed under war situations due to an armed invasion from an individual country or several nations, the other side provides military and other assistance without delay by mobilizing all means in its possession in line with the Article 51 of the U.N. Charter and the laws of the DPRK and the Russian Federation,” the treaty reads.

DPRK, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, is North Korea’s official name. 

The Article 51 of the U.N. Charter stipulates that all U.N. member countries have the inherent right of individual and collective self-defense right if an armed attack is staged against them.

The new treaty also requires both sides not to sign treaties with third countries that infringe on the other’s core interests or participate in such acts, KCNA reported.

The mutual defense provision in the new Russia-North Korea treaty recalls the 1961 Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance  between North Korea and the Soviet Union that became void upon the collapse of the latter in 1991. 

The mutual defense clause was notably missing when the two countries signed a Treaty of Friendship, Good Neighborliness, and Cooperation in 2000, at the beginning of Putin’s reign.

The new partnership treaty will replace bilateral treaties that North Korea and Russia agreed earlier, including the 2000 treaty. 

John Kirby, the spokesperson for U.S. President Joe Biden's National Security Council, said Thursday the announcement was “no surprise” but boded poorly for the people of Ukraine and the Korean peninsula.

“Our view is that this agreement is also a sign of Russia's desperation,” Kirby added. “I mean, they're reaching out to North Korea for missiles, and they’re getting drones from Iran. They don't have a lot of friends in the world.”

After his meeting with Kim, Putin said that the treaty provided for mutual assistance in the event of aggression against one of the two countries, while Kim declared the bilateral relationship has been upgraded to the level of alliance.

Views are still divided as to whether the treaty can be seen as a mutual defense treaty, but experts believe the agreement is likely to boost cooperation between two nations in weapons production.

“The more likely consequence of the treaty is simply closer cooperation in weapons production, with North Korea manufacturing more munitions for Russia and Russia providing more high-end help for North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, likely including aid in developing submarines capable of launching ballistic nuclear missiles,” Sue Mi Terry, senior fellow for Korea studies, told the American think tank Council on Foreign Relations.

“This  will lead Russia to improve North Korean WMD [weapons of mass destruction] capabilities. There is some evidence of this already happening, with Russia possibly providing help to North Korea with its successful satellite launch last November, just two months after the last Putin-Kim meeting,” Terry added.

“This is deeply concerning because of the substantial overlap between the technologies used for space launches and intercontinental ballistic missiles.”

Edited by RFA Staff. Updated to include comments from National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby.

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