Editor's Note

Seho Jang, a research fellow in the Institute for National Security Strategy, states that North Korea is promoting strategic solidarity with China and Russia to achieve its goal of dismantling US hegemony. While Russia also shares the perception that the US-centered unipolar order is not conducive to attaining its national interests, it rarely uses the term “new Cold War” in official foreign policy discourse, reflecting its apprehension about the concept and its potential implications. He evaluates that this caution possibly originated from Russia’s historical trauma as a loser of the Cold War, making it highly likely to be opposed to the emergence of the new Cold War order led by Washington and Beijing. Dr. Chang suggests that this subtle difference could become an important inflection point as Washington’s clout in international politics decreases in the future.

North Korea’s Perception of the Current International Order


In recent years, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has referred to a “New Cold War” and the “multi-polarization of the international order” on several occasions. The candid expression of his and North Korea’s perception of the current state of international affairs has drawn attention from domestic and foreign observers.


From the author’s point of view, this North Korean perception of the international situation stems from their strong expectations and beliefs in the weakening and dismantling of the U.S.-centered unipolar international order. As a matter of fact, North Korea started defining the international order as a New Cold War after the global financial crisis of 2008, an event that led to the universalization of the concept of “G2” in the international community. The reason was that the financial crisis had accumulated a trend of tendentious decline and rise in the relative national power of the U.S. and China, giving rise to strong doubts and tensions concerning the path dependence of the existing international order. This North Korean perception was further strengthened with the inauguration of the Trump Administration in 2017 and the subsequent development of a full-scale strategic competition between the U.S. and China. Indeed, the competition between the two countries, which began in the trade sector and is expanding into all areas including politics, security, values, and norms, is rapidly strengthening the trend of so-called ‘blocization’ on the global level. In this respect, the North Korean narrative on the New Cold War seems to reflect a situational awareness about the long-term continuation of competition and confrontation between two hostile blocs, similar to that observed during the Cold War.


It is further notable that the outbreak of the Ukraine war in 2022 served as a turning point whereby North Korea began raising the issue of multi-polarization more actively. This presumably reflects an intention to emphasize the new reality characterized by the emergence of another ‘center of power(influence)’, in addition to the two powerful centers represented by the U.S. and China. In actual fact, during the post-Cold War era, the concept of so-called ‘spheres of influence’ was considered an outdated and unjustifiable concept of the imperial era, and its use on the international stage was practically taboo. However, as Emma Ashford has recently and aptly pointed out, such a situation may have been the result of the United States’ superior global influence and the absence of a competing sphere of influence. As the Ukraine war realistically demonstrates, the world today is conversely entering an era whereby big powers such as China and Russia are re-establishing their spheres of influence in regions near their borders, claiming their interests within such spheres and competing with the U.S. in testing the limits of power. The recent strengthening of North Korea’s rhetoric on the multi-polarization of the international order reflects this tendency.


However, it ought to be remarked that North Korea perceives the current transitional international order, characterized as a New Cold War and by the multi-polarization of the international order, as an important space of strategic opportunity. North Korea has recently started to emphasize “strategic tactical cooperation” in its relations with China and Russia. This depicts how North Korea shares with China and Russia the strategic goal of dismantling the U.S. hegemony and unipolar order, and how it is tactically taking concerted actions regarding various international and regional agendas in order to achieve such a goal. Until now, Pyongyang has strongly criticized the West’s hegemonism and its coercive and tyrannical use of power. In this respect, the New Cold War and multi-polarization in itself carries an important meaning for North Korea as it reflects the weakening and dismantling process of the U.S.-centered hegemonic unipolar order. The current transitional international order is also a positive environmental change for North Korea in that it is opening up an extensive “gray area” that allows the country to dramatically strengthen its military capabilities and break away from its long-standing international isolation. In fact, through China and Russia, Pyongyang is currently trying to alleviate the international pressure on its nuclear and missile programs and to obtain the opportunity to modernize its outdated conventional weapons system. Additionally, North Korea is striving to escape economic isolation and undermine the sanctions system against its country by resuming and expanding economic cooperation with China and Russia.


Differences in Russian and North Korean Perceptions of the New Cold War and Multi-Polarization


Russia has not made any official remarks on the details of North Korea’s perception of the current international order; hence the difficulty of conducting an explicit evaluation of the Russian position on the topic. Nonetheless, this paper infers a rough outline of the Russian position by analyzing the foreign policy lines pursued by the country since Putin’s rise to power.


After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia sought to become an equal member of the Western world through its so-called “dual transition”, engendering a rigorous pro-Western foreign policy line during the first half of the 1990s. However, the optimistic expectation soon turned into greater disappointment and frustration. Moscow believed that the United States and the West treated Russia and its citizens as a defeated nation and inferior members of the international community. Several factors contributed to this shift, including the strengthening of the U.S.-centered unipolar international order, NATO’s continued expansion into Eastern Europe and the Baltic states, NATO’s air campaign in Kosovo, the failure of Western-style economic reforms, and economic collapse. Accordingly, Russia decided that the U.S.-centered unipolar order is unconducive to attaining its national interests. Yearning for the formation of a multipolar order that can most effectively reflect Russia’s interests, the country has continued to pursue the establishment of a so-called anti-U.S. and anti-hegemonic alliance within the international society. A case in point is the “no-limit” cooperation represented in the intensification of strategic solidarity and partnership with China.


In this respect, in terms of the broad framework, it seems clear that there is a significant overlap in the Russian and North Korean perceptions of the current state of and alternatives to the international order. However, there is a need to delineate the subtle qualitative differences in the two countries’ perceptions of the international order. As previously discussed, North Korea depicts a tendency to perceive the New Cold War and multi-polarization as a single and interlocked concept without any clear distinction. In contrast, Russia seems to differentiate between the two concepts, assigning varying degrees of significance to each. Indeed, the term “new Cold War” is rarely used in official foreign policy discourse by Putin and Russia’s diplomatic office. Instead, they consistently emphasize the need to build a “just and democratic multipolar international order.” This portrays how Russia is considerably apprehensive about the use of the concept of the new Cold War and its potential materialization, and there are several possible reasons for this caution.


Firstly, the new Cold War is bound to be an unpreferable concept for Russia as it brings to mind the country’s historical trauma as a loser of the Cold War. More fundamentally, Russia is hostile to how the concept of the new Cold War presupposes the formation of two hierarchical blocs. Although Russia seeks to disintegrate the U.S.-led hegemonic and unipolar international order, it does not desire to replace it with a bipolar international order. A new Cold War is not necessarily destined to be an identical repeat of the Cold War. Nonetheless, the grammar of the Cold War, represented by the existence of two hostile blocs as well as “confrontation between blocs” and “unity within blocs”, still governs our perception to a significant extent. Therefore, a hierarchical order regulated by the formation of two blocs or opposing poles, led by the United States and China, is not the optimal choice for Russia. In truth, Russia currently has limited capacity and potential compared to the United States or China, and this imbalance is likely to continue. For this very reason, Russia is pursuing a multipolar order as an alternative that can most effectively represent its interests.


In the future, North Korea and Russia will expand their strides of support and solidarity while pursuing the common goal of dismantling the U.S.-centered hegemonic and unipolar international order from a short and medium-term perspective. In this process, the subtle difference in the two countries’ perceptions of the international order is unlikely to carry much significance. However, if there is a significant reduction in the United States’ international influence, these differences could emerge as an important node in the formation of an alternative international order, not only between North Korea and Russia but also between Russia and China and between North Korea and China.




Seho Jang is a research fellow in the Institute for National Security Strategy. He received his Ph.D from the St.Petersburg State University in Russia. He has previously served as a research professor and affiliated professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, expert committeeman of The Presidential Committee on Northern Economic Cooperation. He is a member of the Policy Advisory Committee of the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Unification, Standing Committee of the Peaceful Unification Advisory Council, vice-president of Korean Association for Eurasian Studies, Body Corporate Eurasia21. His primary research areas include the contemporary Russian Politics and Russian external policy, and Korea-Russia relations.



Typeset by Junghoo Park, Research Associate; Yu Na Choi, Intern

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