North Korea-Russia Technology Deal Could Mark a Significant Shift in Global Balance of Power

North Korea-Russia Technology Deal Could Mark a Significant Shift in Global Balance of Power

North Korea’s successful satellite launch and advanced weapons tests suggest an emergent technology sharing alliance with Russia. Following Kim Jong Un’s September 2023 meeting with Vladimir Putin, North Korea announced its first spy satellite launch and fielded new solid-fueled ballistic missiles and a nuclear underwater drone. The timing implies a reciprocal deal exchanging North Korean weapons for Russian technical aid. This burgeoning partnership marked by quid pro quo arrangements signals a tectonic shift toward a multipolar order, as Russia and North Korea cooperate to improve weapons capabilities threatening the US and allies. With global conflicts stretching Western resources, informed decision-making is critical. Contact 3GIMBALS to learn how our OMEN solution provides the intelligence needed to remain a step ahead.

North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and Russia’s Vladimir Putin held a September 2023 summit meeting at a Russian spaceport. While they announced no details regarding any security deals, Russia subsequently began launching North Korean ballistic missiles against Ukraine, and North Korea announced its first successful satellite launch and two successful weapons tests.

The timing of North Korea’s successes and Russia’s use of North Korean weapons suggest the two rulers struck a deal, exchanging North Korean weapons for Russian technical assistance. This burgeoning alliance, marked by strategic quid pro quo deals, signals a significant shift in the balance of power and technological prowess in the region and across the globe.

Satellite Launch Success

On 21 November 2023, North Korea successfully launched its first spy satellite, the Malligyong-1. Figure 1 shows North Korean diagrams of the satellite. This followed two unsuccessful attempts earlier in the year. Experts doubt the satellite will be able to detect more than large-scale troop movements. However, it could enable more precise targeting of U.S. and allied forces throughout the Pacific, with an additional three spy satellite launches planned for 2024.

Figure 1: North Korean diagram of the Malligyong-1 launch. Source: KCNA.

North Korea’s Advanced Weapons Tests

Following its successful space launch, North Korea announced a successful flight test for a new solid-fueled intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) with a hypersonic payload. See Figure 2 for a North Korean-provided photograph of this launch. Solid-fueled missiles require less preparation to launch compared to liquid-fueled systems and are more easily moved, complicating an adversary’s ability to detect and defeat launchers. The speed and maneuverability of a hypersonic payload present unique challenges to air defense systems compared to traditional ballistic missiles and subsonic aerodynamic systems.

Figure 2: North Korean photograph of the 15 January IRBM launch. Source: KCNA/Yonhap.

In addition, North Korea later indicated a successful test of an underwater nuclear attack drone, shown in Figure 3. This event would be North Korea’s second test of such a technology. North Korea indicates the system is designed to strike enemy vessels and ports, although South Korean officials have doubted capability claims.

Figure 3: North Korean released photographs of nuclear underwater drone from April 2023. Source: RODONG SHINMUN

The parallels to Russian weapons development goals are clear. As of November 2023, Russia continued to field its Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle, which was initially announced in 2018. Russia has also developed a nuclear underwater weapon system, the Poseidon torpedo shown in Figure 4, which Russian news reports indicated had entered production in 2023. These programs demonstrate Russia’s ability to assist North Korean scientists in these fields.

Figure 4: Size comparison of Poseidon torpedo. Source: Covert Shores.

Further, the International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed that North Korea’s Yongbyon nuclear test facility has resumed operations. South Korean officials have indicated that North Korea’s seventh nuclear test could occur in 2024. Shin Jongwoo, a military expert at the Seoul-based Korea Defense and Security Forum, indicated this activity could be in support of North Korea extracting plutonium for tactical nuclear warheads.

The timing of these weapons tests begs the question: what assistance did Russia provide? Or is North Korea capitalizing on the opacity of their quid-pro-quo deal with Russia to lead the world to conclude they’ve received assistance, with unverifiable claims of weapons testing success?

The Geopolitical Implications

If Russia is providing technical support, the benefits to North Korea are clear—they gain technological leaps forward with nuclear weapons programs to threaten the U.S. and its allies. In exchange, Russia gains conventional weapon systems such as missiles and artillery shells for use in its war against Ukraine. However, this only scratches the surface of the potential benefits to Russia.

These developments have occurred within the backdrop of North Korea scrapping a 2018 military accord and increasingly hostile rhetoric towards South Korea and the U.S. This could potentially prompt the U.S. to recalibrate its defense strategies, further shifting its focus from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Further, if North Korea follows through with threats to resume fighting against South Korea, the U.S. and its allies would face the daunting task of supporting allies in Europe, the Pacific, and the Middle East in simultaneous conflicts.


While experts assess North Korea’s rhetoric is a diplomatic tool to gain concessions following U.S. and South Korean elections in 2024, the risk of renewed conflict should not be brushed aside. Nations such as Russia, North Korea, China, and Iran are increasing their push for a fundamental shift towards a multipolar world. Global conflicts that stretch the West’s resources would help them achieve these ends.

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