North Korea's Foreign Policy under Kim Jong Il

By Donovan, Brian | North Korean Review, Fall 2014 | Go to article overview

North Korea's Foreign Policy under Kim Jong Il


Donovan, Brian, North Korean Review


North Korea's Foreign Policy Under Kim Jong Il

Tae-Hwan Kwak and Seung-Ho Joo eds., Farnham: Ashgate Publishing, 2009. Hardcover. 273 pp. U.S. $113.95. ISBN: 978-0-7546-7739-0

This volume of essays fills a gap in Western literature on North Korea. First published in 2009, North Korea's Foreign Policy Under Kim Jong Il brings together the work of thirteen field specialists who attempt to view North Korean foreign relations from the DPRK's perspective. While they fully acknowledge the paucity of hard data on Kim's regime and the murkiness of many of the available sources, the editors nevertheless offer a broad range of views covering almost the entirety of North Korean foreign relations.

The six-party denuclearization talks between North Korea and the five other regional powers serve as the unifying thread of many of the essays. Most experts agree on the broad outlines of the DPRK's objectives in these talks, and for Kim's nuclear program in general: to guarantee national security (which necessarily entails the survival of the regime), while simultaneously normalizing relations with the West and continuing domestic economic development. However, the exact weight given to each of these objectives is difficult to determine, as are the internal political factors which influence North Korean actions. For instance, how much do Seongun Jeonchi ("military first") and Juche ("self-reliance"), the official state ideologies, affect the decision-making process? What is their relationship to Kim's goal of achieving Gangseong Daeguk ("strong and prosperous great power") status, and are nuclear weapons essential for any or all of them?

The essayists in this volume differ widely in their approaches to these and other questions. C. Kenneth Quinones, for instance, argues that a fundamental misunderstanding of Juche distorts most Western analyses of North Korean foreign policy. He notes that "selfreliance," the most commonly accepted translation of the term, fails to capture certain critical nuances. He prefers "essence of self-determination," which, coupled with the related notion of Jajuseong ("self-determination character"), anchors Kim's version of Marxism-Leninism in the specific character of the Korean people-under Juche, "the main motive of man's political activities is his struggle to liberate his Jajuseong ... not greed or a hunger for material gain, as Marx argued" (20). Viewed through this lens, "Pyongyang's strategic goals [have] impressive consistency and continuity" (15).

This is consistent with Scott Snyder's assessment of North Korea's intentions and motivations, presented in chapter three. Noting the grave threat globalization poses to a command economy, Snyder concludes that the DPRK leadership as a whole has marginalized a nascent "internationalist coalition" within its ranks, preferring to "maximize resource extraction" domestically rather than risk "integration ... with the international economy." He concludes that "a failure of the existing leadership and a replacement with new leadership" is the likeliest path to meaningful economic reform, but does not speculate on the international security implications of such a failure (53).

Curtis H. Martin and Ilsu Kim, by contrast, explore the dynamics of North Korean leadership and the psychology of Kim Jong-il. In chapter four, Martin argues that "the DPRK has stood by a core set of demands" to the West that were first articulated during the crises of 1993-4, which led to the development of the Agreed Framework on denuclearization (57). …

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