Academic journal article North Korean Review

North Korea's Nuclear Policy towards the U.S.: The Bureaucratic Politics Model

Academic journal article North Korean Review

North Korea's Nuclear Policy towards the U.S.: The Bureaucratic Politics Model

Article excerpt


North Korean foreign policy has been formulated and implemented with priority given to policy towards the U.S. after the North Korean nuclear crisis of the early 1990s. North Korea assumes that it can survive only under the guarantee of the U.S. for its national security. This attitude was substantially formed after the normalization of South Korean relations with the Soviet Union in 1990 and China in 1992. North Korean relations with China, in particular, were regarded as a blood alliance forged in the Korean War. However, the nature of Sino-North Korean relations changed after the normalization of South Korea-China relations. Moreover, China has begun to value international norms and law as it has grown into a power state in the international community and is apt to treat North Korea as a normal rather than special state. These circumstances forced the North to concentrate its efforts on foreign policy towards the U.S.

As for the nuclear program, North Korea believes that nuclear weapons can protect it from external invasion and has therefore developed long-range missiles and nuclear warheads. The North Korean intention to develop nuclear weapons runs against the American foreign policy of emphasizing the nonproliferation of nuclear warheads. The conflict between North Korea and the U.S. on the nuclear program led North Korea to formulate and implement its nuclear policy with prudence and the involvement of many government departments.

Most studies on North Korean foreign policy have focused on the influence of the top leader's perception and rational action. This paper conducts research from a different perspective by examining the North's foreign policy in terms of the bureaucratic politics model. Analysts argue that North Korean foreign policies have mostly been made by the top decision-maker. In contrast to such previous studies, this article focuses on the decision-making process under the top leader and argues that the "pulling and hauling" among North Korean bureaucrats to establish foreign policies has significantly affected North Korean foreign policies. Different policy preferences have been identified by U.S. negotiators who participated in the North Korea-U.S. talks held in 1993 and 1994 and by analysts who interviewed North Korean officials. This research is conducted by analyzing those policy preferences and the process of reaching compromise between bureaucratic groups in North Korea.

Making Foreign Policy in North Korea and Bureaucratic Politics Model

Until the demise of the Cold War, analysts who specialized in North Korean foreign policy mostly inquired into the role of the top leader and the Juche (self-reliance) ideology. Since then, such studies have mainly covered its historical changes and its characteristics in the era of Kim Jong-il. Some studies expanded their scope to examine the structure and process of North Korean foreign policy on the basis of theoretical frameworks.1 Theory-based studies must be increased as they provide us with a deeper understanding and thus improve predictability of North Korean foreign policy. Nevertheless, it is hard to find research cases conducted on the basis of theoretical frameworks such as the cognitive model, the rational actor approach and the bureaucratic politics model, which are key approaches in foreign policy analysis. In particular, the bureaucratic politics model was not used to examine North Korean foreign policy for two reasons. First, analysts have doubted that the bureaucratic politics model can be applied to North Korea's socialistic and authoritarian system. Second, research concerning the bureaucratic politics model needs in-depth examination and analysis of the process of making foreign policy. The difficulty in gathering materials concerning North Korean foreign policy-making has been an obstacle to studies in this direction.

Every political system has a hierarchical order comprising top leaders, middlelevel leaders and numerous bureaucrats. …

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