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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Perfect Rogue State for the Job

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Finally, the North Korean leader has returned safely to his homeland. He leaves behind him the chaos that accompanied this important state visit — commuter trains stopped in their tracks, extraordinary security measures.

But the public wants to know: Why was this all necessary?

The press, both here and abroad, unanimously declared Kim's visit completely pointless and in some cases harmful. One journalist even said that in communicating with North Korea, Russia was acquiring the reputation of a leper specialist. But it would seem that this is exactly the reason our leaders have discovered the discreet charm of North Korea's bureaucracy.

The question is not what North Korea can offer Russia, but rather what Russia can offer the West. The times when Moscow tried to play the role of banana republic have gone. Starting in the mid-1990s, the Russian state began the tortuous search for a new international strategy that on the one hand would suit the West and on the other give the Russian elite at least some kind of an autonomous role, at least a few trump cards over the Big Brother on the other side of the Atlantic. The problem, however, is that the Russian elite is itself unable to formulate its international goals and that the talk of national interests so far remains only rhetoric.

After George W. Bush's administration promised that it would violate the ABM Treaty, the Russian leadership was faced with a choice: either take the diplomatic initiative and begin the formation of a broad international front together with Bush's opponents in Europe — which would have no guarantee of success — or bargain with the new American leadership by trading in its opposition for some kind of tangible steps from the United States. Alas, the Kremlin has virtually no trump cards in this game. Moscow must offer Washington something other than a readiness to publicly back actions that Bush would take anyway.

In terms of economics Russia has nothing to offer — not because it has nothing, but because all possible concessions have already been made, all doors have long been swung open. If there are few U.S. investments in Russia compared with, say, West European investments, then this is America's problem. At a diplomatic level Russia participates so little in the resolution of serious international problems that there is nothing to be offered here either.

In such conditions North Korea is a real find.

The role of mediator between the West and so-called rogue states suggests itself. And the selection is getting rather limited. Libya is gradually coming out of isolation. Castro's regime is of little use either. Spanish and French companies work there successfully, while left-leaning intellectuals in the United States itself can always argue that while Castro's regime may violate human rights it has also made real achievements in areas of education and public health. In short, if Castro needs mediators he can find them outside the Kremlin.

That leaves Iraq and North Korea. Here North Korea is preferable since Washington directly cites its missile program as grounds for its own military experiments. If the pariah states didn't exist, someone would have to invent them.

Generally speaking, Washington doesn't need any concessions from the North Korean regime. The worst thing for Washington would be for North Korea to collapse — the arms race would have to be put on hold. Moscow and Washington have found their hero. Now everyone will be content. The White House will build new weapons, the Kremlin will up its efforts as go-between and President Kim will trundle around the Siberian plains to his heart's content.

Boris Kagarlitsky is a Moscow-based sociologist.