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Implications of Ukraine crisis to Korean Peninsula

Posted March. 24, 2014 08:30,   


The situation in the Crimean Peninsula is getting more complicated. Most residents of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea voted for annexation by Russia as many people expected. Despite concerns of U.S. President Barack Obama and other international leaders, the Russian parliament has passed the annexation of Crimea. The West strongly condemns Russia’s action, but it is unlikely to start a war against Russia. In the end, the crisis will be finalized after tough and long coordination among concerned parties and some local conflicts.

The Ukraine crisis will also have an impact on the Korean Peninsula. Most of all, efforts to find a resolution for the North Korean nuclear issues will be affected. In the 1994 Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances, major countries promised Ukraine “territory integrity,” “sovereignty,” and “economic aides” in return for the nation giving up its nuclear weapons. However, Russia’s recent invasion of Crimea made such promise useless. This will give counties like North Korea and Iran an idea that maintaining nuclear weapons would be the most effective measure for self-defense. In particular, North Korea may get concerned that no matter how much they achieve in exchange for giving up its nuclear program, it might end up being like Ukraine or face an internal collapse.

The Ukraine crisis represents that the new cold war era is beginning. In a broad context, Russia’s annexation of Crimea has resulted from a two-decade long geopolitical conflict between the U.S.-Europe and Russia. To threats imposed by the EU and NATO advancing toward the East, Russia has responded through the Eurasia Economic Union and the sphere of interest concept. Such tensions that had long existed finally exploded at the 2008 war in Georgia and the current crisis on the Crimean Peninsula.

The crisis in the Black Sea delivers many implications to nations in East Asia where the China-led RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership) and the U.S.-led TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) confront each other. Conflicts of economic interest continue and may evolve into diplomatic and security conflicts.

The Crimea Peninsula is a strategic point in the Black Sea region where even the Russian Navy has been stationed given its strategic importance. Also, a nation governing this region can have natural resources reserved in the Black Sea, such as oil and natural gas. Russia has secured a natural fortress while obstructing the expansion of the West by controlling the area. Such advantages have made Russia push for the annexation despite continuous denouncement by the West.

In Northeast Asia, the ports in Najin, North Korea and along the east coast of Russia have been gaining strategic importance. If the Arctic sea route is open and a through road between Najin and Chinese city of Hunchun is built, the Chinese Navy’s operational scope will expand to the northeast coast of the Korean Peninsula. This means that China jumps in the conventional operational scope of Russia, the U.S., South Korea and Japan, increasing the possibility of territorial conflicts in Northeast Asia.

Furthermore, the Ukraine crisis has highlighted the importance of China in seeking its resolution. China implicitly supported Russia over the Crimean issues by giving up its vote at the UN Security Council. In return of this, China will be able to ask for Russia’s support if it faces a regional conflict in East Asia. As China has kept silence for the Ukraine crisis, Russia may do the same for China’s expansion policy in East Asia.

The Ukraine crisis has proved that the West is powerless and the concept that “Europe is stable” is over. No one knows how the Ukraine crisis will be concluded. But what South Korea should do after this is to review its diplomatic and security policies again. Most of all, no one should forget that “national unity” is the foundation of strong diplomacy and security.