North Korea’s real motive for publishing the full text of new treaty with Russia

Posted on : 2024-06-21 16:45 KST Modified on : 2024-06-21 16:45 KST
There’s a lack of precedent for immediately disclosing the full text of North Korea’s bilateral treaties with Russia, making the publication of the full text all the more significant
Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un shake hands while holding copies of their newly signed pact establishing a comprehensive strategic partnership between their two nations following their summit in Pyongyang, North Korea, on June 19, 2024. (TASS/Yonhap)
Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un shake hands while holding copies of their newly signed pact establishing a comprehensive strategic partnership between their two nations following their summit in Pyongyang, North Korea, on June 19, 2024. (TASS/Yonhap)

On Thursday, North Korea unceremoniously released the full text of its newly inked strategic partnership treaty with Russia. Article 4 of the agreement states, “In case any one of the two sides is put in a state of war by an armed invasion from an individual state or several states, the other side shall provide military and other assistance with all means in its possession without delay in accordance with Article 51 of the UN Charter and the laws of the DPRK and the Russian Federation.”

The DPRK stands for Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the full name of North Korea.

The release of the document, formally titled the “DPRK-Russia Treaty on Comprehensive Strategic Partnership,” is considered unusual given the lack of precedent for immediately disclosing the full text of bilateral treaties and the fact that Russia chose not to release it.

That raises the question of why North Korea published the text of the treaty.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un mentioned the word “alliance” several times during a press statement following his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Pyongyang on Wednesday, asserting that “relations between our countries have risen to a new high level of alliance.”

But Putin, for his part, did not use the word “alliance.”

Some analysts see this as representing an interpretive and operational disagreement between the two leaders.

Compared to the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance that North Korea and the Soviet Union signed in 1961, this new treaty differs in that it specifies conditions to which each party is obligated. 

The former states that “should either of the Contracting Parties suffer [an] armed attack by any State or coalition of states and thus find itself in a state of war, the other Contracting Party shall immediately extend military and other assistance with all the means at its disposal.” 

The latest treaty, however, stipulates that should North Korea or Russia be “put in a state of war by an armed invasion from an individual state or several states, the other side shall provide military and other assistance with all means in its possession without delay in accordance with Article 51 of the UN Charter and the laws of the DPRK and the Russian Federation.” 

Strictly speaking, according to Russia’s diplomatic conventions, the “comprehensive strategic partnership” declared by Putin and Kim is a step down from an official alliance. Yet the latest treaty certainly appears to have included the language of an official military alliance — something North Korea likely could not compromise on. 

In such circumstances, Kim and the North Korean authorities appear to have published the entire text of the treaty to show the world that the new pact has the properties of an alliance. 

“While North Korea clearly wanted to emphasize an official alliance structure, Russia seemed to emphasize the defensive nature of the agreement [including Article 51 of the UN Charter] while avoiding calling the agreement an alliance,” a former high-ranking intelligence official told the Hankyoreh.

“To quell any misinterpretations or misunderstandings, Kim Jong-un rushed to publish the entire text of the agreement, as if to tell the world that there is no undoing this alliance,” he added. 

By Park Min-hee, senior staff writer

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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