When discussing North Korea, the isolated state that has largely faced diplomatic and economic seclusion, it seems impossible to imagine who North Korea would be allied with. Nonetheless, although North Korea is largely known to be unfriendly with the international community and often has strained relationships, there are nations with which it is allied and interacts with.
In the past, North Korea has been known most recently for its animosity towards the United States. Its own history of the relationship with America spanning decades of tension and exchanges between the two countries has been one of the notable and newsworthy topics when discussing North Korea’s foreign policy.
In recent years, North Korea has seen a rapprochement with some American allies, developing diplomatic ties with nations such as China, Russia and most recently, South Korea. China, as the most powerful ally of North Korea, has had notable developments recently in terms of economic willingness to cooperate. China holds a large trade surplus to its neighbor, representing a significant investment for the distant nation.
Russia too has its place in supporting North Korea, offering fuel imports and other forms of aid. North Korea and Russia have been allies since the Cold War, with Russia often acting as a buffer to aggressive external influence.
The most recent of North Korea’s diplomatic ties, of course, involve the South Korean neighbor. The two countries resumed talks earlier in the year after both had made the symbolic gestures of de-escalating the tension. The two countries have since had small but meaningful steps in improving the relations between them.
Despite the small steps North Korea has taken towards these countries, North Korea is still difficult to define in terms of an ally nations. North Korea’s difficulty in establishing diplomatic relations and its isolated stance on international affairs has made it so that these nations do not necessarily view North Korea as an ally in the traditional sense. Instead, countries like the United States and international community more broadly tend to view North Korea as an engagement partner, rather than an ally.
What is clear, though, is that North Korea is finding ways to build ties and contact with the world. Through small gestures, North Korea is charting a future of cooperation, a step that is necessary for stabilisation in the future.
Effects of Alliances
No matter what degree of ally or not a nation is considered to be, alliances between countries often have multifaceted effects that have a ripple effect on politics, economics, and society. In the case of North Korea, these effects are especially powerful and unpredictable – as North Korea has been largely removed from the world’s stage for a long period so these new relationships could have both minor and far-reaching effects.
At the moment, it is clear that the alliances are strengthening North Korea’s diplomatic credentials, allowing access to more resources and support. This will in turn help North Korea in its power projection, as it has increased access to more and more resources. North Korea also has access to new markets, which will help the country diversify its income sources, increasing its strength and ability to take on external challenges.
In terms of the effects on North Korean society and population, it is not yet clear what effects these alliances will have. However, with increased interaction and communication between North Korea and the outside world, it is likely that some of the information and knowledge found outside the state’s borders will eventually leak in. This could lead to an increase in economic and political freedoms, as well as an increase in dynamism in North Korean thought, since citizens would have access to more information that is not heavily regulated by the state.
Given the increased interaction between North Korea and its allies in recent years, it is likely that these ties will strengthen and deepen, leading to potentially momentous outcomes in the future.
Challenges of Alliances
One of the other consequences of this globalization of North Korea is the fact that there is no guarantee that the allies of North Korea will not eventually turn into enemies. This could be brought upon by any number of circumstances – North Korea’s nuclear program, its repressive regime, or just simply the innate tension between two different nations. As a result, political risk is heightened when it comes to North Korea, as nations investing in or forming alliances with the state would have to prepare for the potential of shifting relations.
North Korea’s own internal politics, tensions, and instability also threaten to derail any of the state’s diplomatic efforts. These threats arise from the internal conflict and politics, but also from external sources such as sanctions and embargo imposed on the country by other countries. With that, North Korea, and its allies, must be all the more prepared in case external pressure becomes too great and leads to the dissolution of diplomatic ties.
Economically, North Korea remains unstable and largely shielded from market forces. For the allies of North Korea, investments are still largely speculative and hard to gauge for returns. The issue of economic stability and foreign capital too is one that North Korea and its allies face, as North Korea will only be able to robustly develop if it can retain and attract foreign investments with some form of reliability.
North Korea’s foreign policy direction is a complex and uncertain one that is evolving, and though its ties are gradually improving, there are still many challenges that must be overcome before North Korea and its allies can truly forge a stable alliance.
North Korea’s Regional Impact
Though North Korea is a largely reclusive nation, the increasing interaction with its allies, as well as its participation in global events have yielded some progress for the state. In terms of the view of North Korea from a wider lens, its participation in international forums such as the G20 Summit, has created a network of contact and communication that could yield to better understanding between North Korea and other states.
For the East Asian region, North Korea’s presence and participation is also of significance – because North Korea serves as an important buffer state in the power projection of both South Korea and China. In terms of North Korea’s military presence, its allies recognize that North Korea could serve to balance the force projection of both South Korea and China, thus preventing another full-scale war between the two countries.
North Korea is also strategically placed in the region – it is the only country that borders both China and South Korea, thus creating an extra dimension to the developments occurring in the region. With this, North Korea can serve as a negotiator between the two countries, and through its own outreach, has proved to be an effective mediator in the past when it comes to regional disputes.
North Korea is a crucial part of the foreign policy calculations of its regional allies and its presence in the region provides much-needed stability. With the rapprochement between North Korea and its regional counterparts, there is much potential for further cooperation and growth in East Asia, which could be beneficial to all of the involved countries.
Though North Korea’s relationships with the world have been historically difficult, recent developments in regional politics have catalyzed more interaction and communication between North Korea and its allies. This could lead to far-reaching change and stability in the region, as these alliances could form the basis for further cooperation and understanding.
These alliances are based on nuance and collaboration, and all sides clearly recognize the precarious positions of North Korea and the wider region. As a result, missteps, conflict and disputes should be avoided, in favour of the development of positive and constructive relations.
Ultimately, the foreign policy direction of North Korea depends on itself. Moving forward, it is crucial for North Korea to continue on the path of peace and collaboration, as this is the only way it can create a secure and stable future and ensure its own survival.
Apart from its foreign policy, North Korea has faced a number of other challenges domestically and internationally. Although North Korea is an isolated state, its resilience has been demonstrated by the gradual opening up of international ties, despite the nation’s tumultuous history.
Internally, North Korea also shows great resilience despite persistent economic hardship. Internally, its citizens are resilient, driven and adaptive – North Koreans have devised ways to survive the state’s extreme isolation, often turning to low-key trading and the black market for economic security.
The resilience of North Korea is what allows it to survive the constant external and internal pressures, and many of these qualities have been beneficial in its newfound friendships with other countries.
In recent years, North Korea has slowly chipped away at its image on the international stage, proving itself as an adaptive and creative nation. It’s in this regard that North Korea has found historical allies, as well as unlikely comrades – and in the future, these interactions have the potential to bear fruit in terms of economic development and regional stability.