Academic journal article Asian Perspective

North Korea's Siege Mentality: A Sociopolitical Analysis of the Kim Jong-Un Regime's Foreign Policies

Academic journal article Asian Perspective

North Korea's Siege Mentality: A Sociopolitical Analysis of the Kim Jong-Un Regime's Foreign Policies

Article excerpt

IN THIS ARTICLE I EXAMINE WHAT A SIEGE MENTALITY MEANS AND HOW it works in North Korea, with a focus on how it is represented in the foreign policies of the Kim Jong-un regime. Specifically, I look at the way the North Korean government has utilized a siege belief to mobilize its people and promote social cohesion as well as how this belief greatly helps to foster the stability and governance of the regime.

What is a "siege mentality"? Unfortunately, there is no commonly agreed-upon definition of this term in academia. However, it has been widely discussed in order to analyze the nature of a society and shed light on the behavioral roots of its internal and domestic policies. Israeli scholar Daniel Bar-Tal has conducted impressive work on this theme, particularly as it is represented in Jewish history and tradition. According to Bar-Tal, a siege mentality can be defined as "a belief held by group members stating that the rest of the world has highly negative behavioral intentions toward them" (Bar-Tal and Antebi 1992a, 49).1 Sometimes a siege mentality may also refer to a minor partner 's subjective feeling toward a major partner, with an overwhelmingly unfavorable objective inequality between the two (Yang 2001).

Bar-Tal (2011; Bar-Tal and Antebi 1992b) offers some interesting characteristics of a siege mentality. First of all, as a psychological concept, a perceived threat in a siege mentality does not necessarily require the existence of a real threat. The number of dangers for a certain society is almost infinite, so the most deadly hazard is subject to a society's discourse and interpretation (Campbell 1998). In that regard, a siege mentality is close to a self-fulfilling prophecy and is a subjective feeling toward outgroups. Clearly, a siege mentality would not help promote cooperation and decrease distrust among different groups but instead would impede mutually beneficial partnerships. At a national level, a country under besieged consciousness can be characterized by loneliness because its people believe they are alone in the world, that hostile enemies surround them, and that no one will help them. Most countries have at least one hostile nation as a main enemy, but a core belief of besieged consciousness implies the more hopeless situation that a country is fighting against the rest of the world (Bar-Tal and Antebi 1992a).

According to Bar-Tal (2011), a siege mentality fulfills several functions. First, it allows group members to define the world in relatively simple and manageable terms. That is, the besieged consciousness readily enables the group members to classify who is a friend or an enemy. Second, group members with a siege mentality could prepare for the worst and prevent disappointment when they are confronted with a desperate situation. Third, a siege belief helps establish a firm group clearly distinguished from others, allowing it to have its own unique culture and identity.

Fourth, a siege belief contributes to mobilizing people and promoting solidarity within the group. North Korea is a very appropriate example in this case in that its siege mentality has been utilized as an effective tool to bond its society together and reinforce the absolute power of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il (Harrison 2002). Fifth, a group under besieged consciousness feels self-righteousness and superiority over other groups. The belief that out-groups have hostile intentions toward the in-group insinuates that other groups are evil, malicious, and violent. Sixth, a siege belief stresses self-reliance, so it calls for strengthening internal capabilities and minimizing dependence on out-groups (Bar-Tal 2011).

Characteristics of North Korea's Siege Beliefs

Bar-Tal (2011) has identified three causes of siege mentality. The first is self-initiated, aroused by a national leader who voluntarily decides to isolate his or her society from the international community. North Korea is generally known to be included in this category, along with Albania. …

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