On both sides of the Korean peninsula, eyes on Washington’s response to Russia

SEOUL — North and South Korea will likely be watching the US response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine closely, although for different reasons, analysts say.

North Korea carried out a series of missile tests in January, but none this month, perhaps in deference to its neighbor and ally China, which hosted the Winter Olympics. With the Games now over and the Biden administration’s attention fixed on Ukraine, North Korea may decide it’s time to resume weapons testing, to gain more diplomatic clout with Washington.

“The crisis in Ukraine gives North Korea more options, whether it’s a long-range missile test or even a nuclear test,” said Cheon Seong-whun, former director of the Korea Institute for National Unification, a government-funded research organization. Seoul institute.

In South Korea, many people will see Washington’s response to the Russian invasion as a test of its reliability as a military ally, said Lee Byong-chul, professor of political science at the Institute for the Far East from Kyungnam University in Seoul.

He said a failure of US leadership could even increase public support for the idea of ​​South Korea having its own nuclear weapons – an idea the Southern government opposes, but which has grown in popularity. as the North continued to build its arsenal and China became more assertive in the region.

“The South Koreans saw the United States already looking like a toothless tiger when it withdrew chaotically from Afghanistan,” Professor Lee said. “If Ukraine turns out to be spineless, they will talk more about arming their country with nuclear weapons, because they wonder if Ukraine would have suffered the humiliation that it is now suffering if it had not given up its nuclear weapons.”

After the breakup of the Soviet Union, Ukraine renounced Soviet nuclear weapons on its soil in exchange for security guarantees.

South Korean online chat rooms were abuzz with people discussing the implications of Ukraine’s invasion for the divided Korean peninsula. A weak US response would strengthen North Korea’s resolve not to give up its nuclear arsenal, some people said.

The South Korean government condemned the invasion and pledged to join international sanctions against Russia. On Saturday, the North Korean government did not issue a statement on the invasion.

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