North Korea’s nuclear test in 2016 was met around the world with surprise and condemnation. The incredibly isolated Hermit Kingdom has spent the last half century growing increasingly antagonistic. And today is one of the most disliked countries on earth. But despite their negative global standing, North Korea is not necessarily all alone. So we want to know who are North Korea’s allies. Well, given the political history of North Korea’s formation, it is not all that surprising that one of the few allies is Russia. Following WW2, the Korean peninsula was split down the middle. The USA occupied the South and the Soviet Union, the North. The two sides failed to reach a unified plan. By 1948, the Soviets established their communist dictatorship. During the Cold War, Russia contributed to North Korea development and even sent troops to fight in the Korean war. They also provided a significant amount of humanitarian and military aid as well as nuclear reactors.
It is generally believed that although the Soviet Union did not intend for North Korea to acquire nuclear weapons, they did so due to early nuclear investment by the Russian government. When the Soviet Union collapsed in the early 1990s, so did their support for North Korea. But since Putin’s controversial rise to power in the early 2000s, friendly relations between the two countries have re-emerged. In 2015, Russia forgave roughly $10 billion of North Korea’s debt in a hope of establishing an oil pipeline in the region.
But, of North Korea’s allies, Russia is considerably less involved than the Popular Republic of China. North Korea and China share roughly 900 miles border and since the division of Korea, China has provided considerable support to the fledgling nation. Besides contributing troops to the Korean War, the two also signed a mutual aid and cooperation friendship treaty in 1961. This treaty which has been renewed several times primarily protects North Korea against foreign aggression. Today, although relations with China have hit an all time low, China investments in North Korea stability have hinged on preventing a mass migration of refugees. China is by far North Korea’s largest trading partner and source of aid. As of 2011, roughly 85% of North Korea’s imports and exports were to China. According to a 2010 Wikileaks document, Chinese officials have referred to the Hermit Kingdom as a “spoiled child”. More recently, the PRC has publicly rebuked Kim Jong Un’s illegal nuclear program straining tensions even further.
But while North Korea’s nuclear aims have isolated the country, they have also created unexpected alliances. As a major weapons dealer, North Korea has long been suspected of selling weapons to Iran during the Iran-Iraq war. In 2012, the two countries signed a scientific cooperation pact which many believe that is intended to further both of their nuclear weapon program.
A decade earlier, a similar pact between North Korea and Syria reportedly led plutonium reactors being build in eastern Syria. North Korea’s predominantly military and weapon-based alliances, has made them a dangerous world power. But in 2015, the country sent out diplomats to Cuba and Equatorial Guinea, both former Soviets supporting nations. Some believe that this move shows North Korea is seeking renewed relationships in light of their shaky ties to allies like Russia and China.
In the end, North Korea diplomacy may not be a good sign for the rest of the world. North Korea’s 2016 nuclear test spread not only uneasiness but also confusion.