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Pyongyang and the World: North Korean Perspectives on International Relations under Kim Jong-il


  • This article was presented at the North Korean Nuclear Politics Conference, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA (4–5 June 2009).


Despite the strategic importance of North Korea, we know relatively little about how Pyongyang perceives international relations. This paper represents an effort to remedy that paucity. I seek to construct Pyongyang's perspectives on international relations under Chairman Kim Jong-il through analysis of primary texts produced by the DPRK and additional secondary materials. North Korea's international relations theory includes perspectives that: see the state as a basic unit, focus on military capability and conflict, value the importance of ideology, and seek to disclose the unfair nature of the current world order and to build a new world order. The DPRK demands a democratization of international relations that will secure peace and stability and pave the way toward independence of member states and a world economic order that will guarantee a just distribution of wealth among them. The core of Pyongyang's perception of Northeast Asian politics is the dichotomy between the land powers and sea powers. The North identifies itself as a land power along with China and Russia. South Korea belongs to the group of sea powers, siding with Japan and the USA. It is difficult to anticipate a dramatic rewriting of Pyongyang's international relations theory under the current leadership. For the rise of a new theory of international relations more bent on harmony and interdependence, we might have to wait till the arrival of a new leadership in Pyongyang.