North Korea and Russia Defense Policies

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The current research paper's key aim was to compare and contrast Russia's and North Korea's security policies. Most security policies are motivated by the need to defend national interests and accomplish policy goals that are aligned with the nation's vision and long-term strategic plans. In this situation, North Korea's security policy is motivated by a need to unite the Korean Peninsula and fight any external threat posed by countries such as the United States. Russia's security policy, on the other hand, is motivated by the need to sustain foreign dominance in conflict areas such as the Syrian conflict and the Crimean war. Besides, Russia’s policy is focused on gaining back the geographical territories and world influence that it lost after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Comparison between North Korea and Russia Defense Policies

A common factor in the Russian and North Korean defense policies is the classification of the US and its NATO allies as potential threats that pose an unknown risk to their existence. On the other hand, both countries consider China as a trustworthy partner in deference cooperation. The two nations have expanded their military capabilities in anticipation of possible attacks or provocation from the US and its allies. The specifics of their similarities are outlined in the following sections.

North Korea’s Defense Policy

The imminent threat posed by a possible US military invasion has caused the Korea People’s Army (KPA) to adopt an aggressive defense policy. Its aggressive military policy can be witnessed in the recent testing of intercontinental ballistic missiles that have the capabilities of reaching the US mainland (Chanlett-Avery, Rinehart, & Nikitin, 2016). Moreover, it has been argued that the regime’s fear of an imminent attack from the US could trigger a surprise attack on South Korea (Nautilus Institute, 2017). The US involvement in the Iraq war and the indirect involvement in Syria and Somalia are a catalyst for the North Korea’s defense policy. This is because the country would not desire to be a victim of US aggression. Despite the fact that the US may not intend to attack North Korea, the Korean government is not taking any chances. In fact, in 2012, North Korea openly confirmed to the then US Assistant Secretary of State that its covert nuclear defense program was catalyzed by uncertainties concerning possible US military involvement (Nautilus Institute, 2017).

After the death of Kim Jong-il, North Korea’s defense strategy has partly shifted to the air force and navy. This is an indication that the young leader is aware of the fact that the regime’s survival is interwoven with the country's defense policy and military strategy. Moreover, in the recent past, the country has made concerted efforts in the development of nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles (Park, 2016) and the regime has indicated that it will not hesitate to use such weapons on all perceived enemies such as South Korea and the US.

Russia’s Defense Policy

Russia defense policy has been anchored on passive and strategic aggression judging from the recent events in Syria and Ukraine. Russia defense policy encompasses the military and security policy. Since 2008, its defense policy underwent a paradigm shift after years of mixed progress and decline.

In 2015, Russia initiated a new defense policy whose sole focus was to enhance its global influence, authority, eminence, and safeguard national unity. This indicates that Russia, just like North Korea is wary of the threat posed by the ever present US and its band of NATO allies. Nonetheless, Russia’s policy of military aggression is hampered by the dwindling commodity prices and Western sanctions. Another key factor that is influencing Russia’s defense strategy is its desire to solve key global conflicts such as the Syrian conflict. The need to solve such conflicts is driven by selfish desires to maintain its global influence and position as a superpower. To achieve and sustain its superpower position, Russia intends to enhance its GDP because defense spending and capabilities are intertwined with a country's economic position. The current defense strategy advocates for continued cooperation with allies such as India and China (Oliker, 2016). Furthermore, the policy appreciates the need to work with the EU and the US as well, as long as they appreciate Russia’s role in the global scheme of things.

Russia’s defense policy in action was recently witnessed in the annexation of Crimea. Despite the fact that Russia’s defense strategy is cognizant of the need to maintain amicable foreign relations; the main focus of Russia's defense policy is in its interests (Oliker, 2016).

NATO's aggression has also informed Russia's defense policy. This is because Russia's differences with NATO began in 1989 when the Berlin Wall collapsed. It was at this time that Mikhail Gorbachev made open opposition towards the expansion of NATO territory because it would pose a threat to the country’s defense capabilities. Nonetheless, NATO proceeded with their territorial expansion. This was despite previous assurances from NATO that such expansion would cease, and the compromise made by Russia in the withdrawal of forces from the Baltic region. Additionally, in 1999, Russia was sidelined from NATO involvement in the conflict in Kosovo and Yugoslavia. These events informed Russia’s future defense considerations and the classification of NATO as a serious threat to its existence (Barcelona Center for International Affairs, 2009).

Russia’s defense strategy strives to counter threats posed by the US missile defense systems, information warfare, the rise of ISIS, the overthrow of governments by Western nations, and the proliferation of weapons. According to Russia, the United States and its Western partners are focused on restraining its influence because they desire to enhance their global influence. Therefore, NATO and the US both pose a threat to the Russian Federation and the global order at large; this is according to the latest defense policy from Russia (Oliker, 2016).

Contrast Between Russia and North Korea Defense Strategies

The differences between the defense policies of Russia and North Korea emanate from the approach, which they have used to deal with perceived threats such as the sustained aggression and provocation by the US and its allies. Besides, their differences are pronounced considering that the Russian defense policy is not anchored on the military-industrial complex while North Korea's defense strategy is solely anchored on military aggression and expansion which translates to a military first policy. Russia, on the other hand, has appreciated the fact that defense goes beyond military aggression into forging international partnerships and strategic alliances.

The alliances include the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) among other multinational defense cooperation with countries such as Iran, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, India, and China. On the other hand, North Korea is isolated, and it mainly depends on China for economic and military survival.

Russia’s defense engagements ensure that the country has reliable allies if it may need security reinforcements or support in its global defense schemes such as the recent support it received from Iran in its attempt to safeguard the Assad's regime. Besides, according to Russia's military leadership, the country does not consider direct military aggression as an alternative in international relations (Oliker, 2016).

Moreover, another difference between North Korea and Russia is the fact that Russia’s defense policy has restrained from direct military aggression towards the US while North Korea has been openly trying to provoke the US by testing nuclear warheads that can reach the US coast.

North Korea

The North Korean defense policy is anchored on the “Songun Chongch’i” policy, which gives precedence to military activity (Park, 2007). The policy was first postulated by Kim Jonh-il. In line with its defense policy, North Korea has maintained an army of over 1 million soldiers, which is significant considering that the country has a population of fewer than 30 million inhabitants. According to observers, the military first policy has compromised key pillars of the nation such as the economy and industrial production. Besides, the military policy is centered on the Kim dynasty, which is using the military to maintain its firm hand on all affairs of the state and to gain an upper hand in its conflict with South Korea, which is supported by the US.

The “Songun Chongch’i” gained prominence in the 1990s, and it was characterized by more visibility of the KPA in all matters of the nation and social affairs as well. The military first policy has caused the KPA to wield a higher voice in all national decisions. For instance, the KPA is a major contributor to the infrastructural development of North Korea and in the distribution of food in the country (Vorontsov, 2006).

Following the military policy, soldiers are required to serve in the army for at least a decade, however, even after leaving the army; the ex-soldiers are still involved in social activities. Therefore, from another perspective, the military first policy does not exert so much pressure on the economy because it positively contributes towards economic development (Vorontsov, 2006).

The transition into the military first policy has influenced the shift on North Korea’s economy into a sort of mixed economy. This has led to the development of diverse corporations that are managed with less influence from the government. This model bears some similarities to the South Korean “Chaebol.” The model combined with the military first policy has caused the KPA to influence international trade negotiations and foreign relations (Vorontsov, 2006).

According to the defense policy of North Korea, the prosperity of the state is only viable when the military is strong. The military first policy in North Korea was a product of the self-reliance policy advanced by Kim II Sung, and it was adopted in place of the Communist Party vanguard and the proletariat. This approach to defense is pragmatic because the army is considered to be more strategic in matters of defense in comparison to the other approaches to defense adopted by other countries (Vorontsov, 2006).

Since separation of the North and South, the most critical defense objective has been the reunification of the North and South Korea, but under the conditions imposed by the North (Nautilus Institute, 2017). The objective is of great essence to the North to the extent that it is enshrined in its constitution. The government of North Korea has used this objective to drive its military policy. However, it has realized that the plan is no longer feasible because South Korea is more economically advanced and globally recognized in comparison with the North. The government has used the fear of invasion by a foreign power as one of the primary justification of advancing its military policy that seems to be at odds with other civilized countries (Nautilus Institute, 2017).

Russia Defense Policy

Unlike North Korea, Russia has defense cooperation with the US. This is despite the fact that Russia considers the US to be a threat. Besides, both countries are permanent members of the UN Security Council that largely influences global security policies. The defense cooperation between US and Russia is anchored in the mutual desire by both countries to reduce and limit their nuclear stockpiles. The US and Russia initiated the Global Initiative to Combat Acts of Nuclear Terrorism. Before this defense engagement, the two countries were cooperating in the Strategic Offensive Reduction Treaty (Barcelona Center for International Affairs, 2009).

Russia has used its superior military technologies to establish defense and military sales with countries perceived to be enemies of the EU and the US. A case in point, Russia has been openly selling arms to Venezuela and Iran; these two countries are considered enemies of the US and its allies due to their different political ideology.


In conclusion, it has been observed that Russia and North Korea defense policies bear some similarities. The similarities include the fact that both countries perceive NATO and US as potential threats. Besides, both countries have far-reaching defense engagements with China. Nonetheless, their difference emanates from the fact that North Korea has pursued a narrow focus on defense with its military first policy and the country is isolated from international defense partnerships. On the other hand, Russia has augmented its military might with defense cooperation with some countries including the US. Therefore, Russia’s defense policy is more pragmatic in comparison to North Korea’s defense policy.


Barcelona Center for International Affairs. (2009). Defense policy of the Russian Federation. Retrieved from

Chanlett-Avery, E., Rinehart, I. E., & Nikitin, M. B. D. (2016). North Korea: U.S. Relations, Nuclear Diplomacy, and Internal Situation (Vol. 2708).

Nautilus Institute. (2017). DPRK Briefing Book: North Korea’s Military Strategy. Retrieved July 15, 2017, from

Oliker, O. (2016). Unpacking Russia’s New National Security Strategy. Retrieved July 15, 2017, from

Park, H. S. (2007). Military-First Politics (Songun): Understanding Kim Jong-il’s North Korea. Korean Economic Institute, 2(7), 1–9. Retrieved from

Park, S.-Y. (2016). North Korea’s military policy under the Kim Jong-un regime. Journal of Asian Public Policy, 9(1), 57–74.

Vorontsov, A. V. (2006). North Korea’s Military-First Policy: A Curse or a Blessing? Retrieved July 15, 2017, from

August 18, 2021

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