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Two Imperative Situations and North Korea’s Diplomacy toward the United States: Rapprochement to Confrontational Diplomacy in the 1970s and the 1990s
The Korean Journal of International Studies 20-1 (April 2022), 89-147
Published online April 30, 2022
© 2022 The Korean Association of International Studies.

Seongryeol Kim [Bio-Data]
Received February 7, 2022; Revised March 18, 2022; Accepted March 28, 2022.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0) which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Abstract
This article challenges the common belief that North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and their related delivery systems in the 1990s was a fundamental shift in its foreign policy objectives toward the United States. It argues instead that North Korea has continued to pursue the rapprochement policy announced by Kim Il Sung in the early 1970s. Its findings demonstrate that the shift from rapprochement in the 1970s to provocation in the 1990s was a tactical rather than a strategic change in North Korea’s foreign policy. The U.S.’s indifference to the acute security anxieties caused by exogenous factors associated with the end of the Cold War led to North Korea’s adoption of an asymmetrical deterrence posture in its foreign policy toward the United States. The findings of this research project demonstrate that this fundamental dynamic, which has underpinned U.S.-North Korea relations over the last three decades, has not been analyzed systematically by the leading experts in the field of North Korea studies. Nor have its implications received the requisite attention from the policymakers of successive U.S. administrations over the last thirty years. The result is a growing conviction in the U.S. that diplomacy with North Korea is inevitably doomed to failure.
Keywords : Imperative situations, the China-U.S. détente, the Russia/China-South Korea détente, North Korea’s policy toward the United States, the rapprochement, and confrontational approaches.
INTRODUCTION

The mainstream of scholarship in North Korea studies subscribes to a very different perspective on the country’s approaches to the United States.1 The conventional wisdom in analyzing the North Korean regime is that it is a ‘status quo power’ or ‘security seeker’. This means North Korea is perceived to be trying to preserve the Kim family’s legacy by improving relations with the United States in the aftermath of a collapsing Eastern Bloc.The implication of the ‘status quo’ position is that North Korea’s diplomatic approaches to the U.S. are focused on internal factors. This interpretation emerged after the end of the Cold War because the North Korean regime at that point was unstable both economically and politically. It was a critical juncture for North Korea as it had to choose either to adapt to the free-market system or to preserve the pristine version of Juche ideology. Eventually, the North Korean leadership decided to maintain the Juche ideology which is a composite of: 1) national self-defense (jawi); political self-determination (jaju); and economic self-sufficiency (jarip). In terms of national defense, in the early 1990s, the Kim Jung Il regime added ‘nuclear ideology’ to this complex in the interest of regime survival. The nuclear ideology provides security against an external threat while also serving normative and symbolic functions. That is, it rationalizes the need to possess nuclear weapons and to make domestic audiences accept the justifications for the nuclear policy (Howell 2020, 1058).

After the failure of its negotiations with the United States, the country resumed its anti-American campaign along with its nuclear weapons program in the early1990s. The emergence of the nuclear program ‘provocation’ has been viewed in a distorted way by some scholars of U.S-North Korea relations. The perception of North Korea as a ‘rogue state’ or an ‘irrational’ and even ‘impossible’ regime has focused attention exclusively on internal factors that supposedly are designed only to preserve the ‘Kim family’s legacy’ buttressed by the Juche ideology (Cha, 2002; Howell, 2020; Haggard and Noland, 2010). Daniel and Phillip (2003) make it clear that these scholars face five barriers in their efforts to understand North Korea: 1) linguistic barriers; 2) ideological barriers that distort interpretations of developments in North Korea; 3) intellectual constructs that conceal important information; 4) lack of imagination and a reluctance to acquire a deeper comprehension of the North Korean mindset; and 5) deliberate misrepresentations for political or policy convenience (p. 81). Scholars and policymakers on Korean issues frequently misunderstand North Korea’s official statements when they are translated into English. Ideologically, the country is perceived as a Stalinist political system despite Pyongyang’s signaling a desire to open up its economy on the condition of being able to maintain its regime. The rogue state framework also lacks accuracy since it implies a preemptive attack is the only way to deal with ‘unreasonable’ states. This framework creates misunderstandings and overlooks the security needs these states share along with all other states.

These preemptive narratives from the United States and ‒ to a lesser extent ‒ the West in general potentially lead to misperceptions of the inevitability of military conflicts and the associated dilemmas. Also, they shape the public debate of foreign policy options both for domestic and international audiences. Therefore, an internal-factors-only analysis has serious intrinsic limits in providing an understanding of how North Korea’s foreign policy toward the U.S. has changed over time. The primary purpose of this study is to provide a new perspective on North Korea’s diplomatic approaches to the United States from the 1970s. The research for this study relies on the two hypotheses cited above. These two external factors ‒ the China-U.S. détente during the Cold War era and the normalization of relations with South Korea by the Soviet Union/Russia and China in the post-Cold War era ‒ might not have directly formed and constructed the foreign policy of North Korea, but it is assumed that the leadership in Pyongyang observed these momentous events closely, redesigned their policy agenda, and adjusted their course of action toward the United States accordingly.

The objective of this research is to challenge the conventional wisdom of the U.S-DPRK relationship, which heavily focuses on North Korea’s nuclear weapons and its intention to become a nuclear state. The main argument of this study is that two international environment changes in the 1970s and 1990s are independent variables in the systemic analysis of how the international political economy influenced North Korea’s policy toward the United States. These changes accounted for the shift from a policy of rapprochement to an confrontational approaches, which are the dependent variables of this study. The two external factors that I focus on are the China-U.S. détente in the early 1970s and the normalization of relations with South Korea by the Soviet Union and China in the early 1990s. These are independent variables in explaining the shift in North Korea’s policy toward to the United States. As I will explain in the following, the policy was not launched with an aggressive intent. Rather, it was a response adapted to the permissive diplomatic environment in Northeast Asia created by the rapprochement between China and the United States. At the same time, though, North Korea’s original outreach to the U.S. with rapprochement measures eventually was modified to assimilate a confrontational approach.

In analyzing the evolution of North Korea-U.S. relations, then, several questions are critical: How have external factors affected North Korea’s policy toward the United States? How was the policy formulated initially? How and why has North Korea’s diplomatic behavior toward the United States changed from peaceful approaches to aggressive approaches? To answer these questions, I will investigate in-depth North Korea’s motivations for its outreach to the United States from the vantage point of the impact external factors had on its diplomatic behavior. This study will apply situational imperative frameworks to explore North Korea’s diplomatic approaches to the United States during both the Cold War and post-Cold War eras.

LITERATURE REVIEW AND THE THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK

LITERATURE REVIEW

Coercion. The research on coercive diplomacy primarily focuses on North Korea’s exploitation of nuclear provocations to initiate negotiations with the United States. This explanation interprets North Korea’s nuclear program in the early 1990s as a coercive tool for improving relations with the United States and the international community (Mack, 1991; Kim, 1995; Wit, 2001; Moon and Bae, 2003). Mack (1991) argues that North Korea saw the development of the nuclear program as a useful bargaining chip to launch a low-level dialogue with the United States. To strengthen its bargaining position in future dialogues, Pyongyang exploited the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards issues arising from activities in the reprocessing facility at the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center. In Mack’s view, by seeking to acquire nuclear weapons, North Korea compelled the U.S. to pay attention to its concerns. The U.S. had no choice since it officially became involved directly in the IAEA’s efforts to resolve the challenges to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) regime posed by North Korea’s nuclear program. This coercive behavior toward the U.S. reflected the logic of Pyongyang’s strategic rationality. At the beginning of the 1990s, Pyongyang faced an economic crisis and the shifting conventional military balance on the Korean Peninsula. These were intimations of a looming no-win situation for North Korea (p. 94). These difficulties gave North Korea an incentive to initiate a nuclear weapons program. The nuclear program could offer a low-cost, strategic equalizer to the conventional military superiority of South Korea, provide a significant deterrent value for the country, and stymie South Korea’s aggressive efforts to promote reform in the North. In the end, the long-range solution to North Korea’s looming no-win situation was to engage the U.S. in a dialogue. Considering the U.S.’s deep concerns about preventing WMD proliferation, North Korea may have perceived that its nuclear program could be utilized to gain jiu jitsu-like leverage in any forthcoming dialogue.

Kim (1995) points out that Pyongyang’s priority in foreign policy in the early 1990s was to prioritize direct bilateral confrontation or negotiations with the United States. By exploiting its threat to withdraw from the NPT, reinforced by its eviction from Yongbyon of the IAEA’s inspection team, North Korea finally coerced the U.S. into agreeing to hold high-level U.S.-North Korea talks in New York City on June 11, 1993. One tangible outcome of these talks was Pyongyang’s agreement to halt its withdrawal from the NPT temporarily. Pyongyang also acceded to the IAEA’s request for special inspections, but with a caveat that the inspection sites had to be limited. Accordingly, Kim’s assessment is that North Korea’s diplomatic behavior demonstrated the use of brinkmanship and breakthrough tactics to advance its interests (p. 19).

Indeed, ‘brinksmanship’ is a fair characterization of North Korea’s diplomatic tactics. Pyongyang had begun removing nuclear fuel rods from the Yongbyon reactor without providing the required notice to IAEA inspectors after the first round of high-level U.S.-North Korea talks with Under Secretary Arnold Kanter in New York City in January 1992. In response, the IAEA Board Governors adopted a sanctions resolution that triggered Pyongyang’s announcement of its intention to withdraw from the NPT. This sequence of events is viewed as the starting point of the first North Korean nuclear crisis of 1994. The escalation of tension was reaching the boiling point when former U.S. president Jimmy Carter intervened decisively by travelling to Pyongyang for a face-to-face meeting with Kim Il Sung. Due to Carter’s timely intervention, after months of difficult negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang, both sides finally reached a landmark agreement in Geneva ‒ commonly known as the Agreed Framework ‒ on October 24, 1994. North Korea’s brinkmanship in the form of the implicit threat of its nuclear program ‒ aimed potentially not only at Washington but also at Beijing and Moscow ‒ signaled its willingness to disrupt the peace and stability of the Asia-Pacific region, if necessary, to obtain a favorable bargaining position.Wit (2001) argues that the motivations of North Korea’s engagement efforts were to salvage its economy and legitimize its government. He suggests that the U.S. government had no alternative but to become more invested in the success of the negotiations with North Korea. If the negotiations failed to address Pyongyang’s concerns, North Korea could continue to undermine the international nonproliferation regime and might even export nuclear weapons materials or technology abroad (p. 79). The weapons and technology could have been sold to countries such as Libya and Iran who were NPT members in good standing.

Instead of following up on its announced intention to withdraw from the NPT, North Korea adhered to its commitments under the agreed Framework but expected reciprocal measures by Washington and Seoul ‒ such as the lifting of economic sanctions. Wit also explains that the engagement policy was driven by the leader of North Korea at the time ‒ Kim Jong-il ‒ who was trying to bolster his domestic political credibility and legitimacy. For these domestic reasons, North Korea continued to pursue an offensive diplomacy to enhance its relations with other regional powers, especially China and Russia (p. 83). On the other hand, Moon and Bae (2003) point out that North Korea’s fundamental motivation for seeking to engage the United States stemmed from deeply rooted security anxieties related perceptions of hostile neglect, isolation, and containment effectiveness. Notably, the U.S.-South Korea annual Team Spirit military exercise reinforced North Korea’s external threat perception. Pyongyang’s efforts to compensate for these security concerns included the strengthening of its military-first politics and the pursuit of a nuclear program that attracted the U.S.’s attention because of its WMD potential (p. 38).

Minimal Deterrence. The minimal deterrence analysis asserts that North Korea seeks security guarantees by developing a nuclear weapons program, but simultaneously tries to normalize relations with the U.S. and Japan for the sake of obtaining economic support and ensuring regime survival (Shen, 2009; Howell, 2020; Rhee, 1992; Kang, 2003; Sohn, 2012). In this case, military-first politics, including the nuclear program, play a crucial role in the country’s security matrix, and diplomatic relations with the United States supplement this matrix by enhancing the legitimacy of the regime. Shen (2009) argues that the minimal deterrence strategy in the case of North Korea entailed combining the development of nuclear weapons with improving its relations with the United States. If Pyongyang’s attempts to normalize relations with the U.S. failed to succeed, the country would make the pursuit of nuclear weapons a higher priority. Possessing nuclear weapons would strengthen the country’s national security as well as deter the nuclear powers surrounding North Korea. China and Russia have their own nuclear weapons, and South Korea and Japan are protected by the U.S. nuclear umbrella. Shen argues that the nuclear program was initiated not only for security purposes but also for diplomacy purposes vis-a-vis the international community as well as the United States. North Korea believed that the United States and NATO would not have launched military strikes against Iraq and Yugoslavia if they had possessed nuclear weapons. According to this line of reasoning, Pyongyang’s strategy for opening up to negotiations with the U.S. is premised on the acquisition of nuclear weapons as a guarantee of its national security.

Howell (2020) explains three reasons why states seek to develop or acquire nuclear weapons: 1) nuclear weapons provide security against external threats; 2) the decision to nuclearize is influenced by interactions among domestic actors and state leaders; and 3) nuclear weapons serve normative and symbolic functions as an affirmation of legitimacy (p.1053). These reasons are based on the perceived value of nuclear weapons, which is linked to deterrence and nuclear non-use. The conventional wisdom of rational deterrence theory explains that nuclear deterrence can minimize the chances of bilateral conflict between two nuclear-armed states (Sagan, 1996). In the case of North Korea, Howell argues that nuclear weapons serve as a powerful and reliable war deterrent that contributes to regime survival while also being a constituent part of the state’s identity (p.1054). North Korea’s nuclear weapons are embedded in its national ideology, namely, Juche. Embedding the nuclear doctrine within a national ideology serves to justify the cost of nuclear weapons and helps to maintain domestic support for the nuclear program.

Howell introduces the concept of a nuclear ideology that encompasses the motivations behind North Korea’s adoption of a policy of developing and acquiring nuclear weapons. This concept can be shaped by domestic politics and perceptions of the international environment in the geopolitical region where North Korea is situated. Leaders in Pyongyang could justify the acquisition of nuclear weapons by promulgating North Korea’s nuclear ideology as a means of ensuring regime survival and minimizing external threats. In a similar context, Rhee (1992) argues that North Korea was attempting to preserve its own style of socialism by enhancing the Juche ideology. At the beginning of the 1990s, North Korea’s economy had hit bottom and was at the point where people’s daily subsistence was threatened. The food and energy shortages propelled the country to discard its self-imposed isolation and proactively reach out to other countries. In response to the economic crisis, and as a step toward the normalization of relations, Pyongyang began pressing Japan for a financial settlement of outstanding claims from its 40-year colonial occupation of Korea from 1905 to 1945. North Korea also intensified its efforts to reach out to the United States by offering to upgrade counselor-level meetings to the ambassadorial level (p. 61). However, Japan and the United States were not receptive to these efforts by North Korea. Rhee assumes that this is the point at which North Korea started to highlight nuclear issues to gain the attention of the United States. Indeed, after giving notice under the Agreed Framework of the nuclear power plants under construction at Shinpo on the east coast, South Korea, Japan, and the United States warned North Korea to abandon the dream of having nuclear weapons (p. 62).

These three countries also demanded that Pyongyang sign a nuclear safeguard accord with the IAEA and accept international inspection of its nuclear-related facilities. North Korea agreed to sign the safeguards accord on the condition of being able to inspect U.S. military facilities in South Korea. Rhee’s article suggests that North Korea was trying to exploit nuclear issues to develop its relations with Japan and the United States to ensure the regime’s survival. Kang (2003) makes the point that North Korea’s security interests and goals are crucial because the Korean War technically has not ended. The 1953 armistice has never been replaced with a peace treaty. In this sense, North Korea must adopt means of deterrence and defense against the military threat from South Korea and the United States. If the U.S. agreed to provide security assurances or to sign a peace treaty with North Korea, the country would not need to develop or acquire nuclear weapons (p. 495). However, Washington has been unwilling to conclude a peace treaty or to normalize relations with Pyongyang. Instead, the United States has labeled North Korea a terrorist state and even explored the possibility of going to war. The U.S.’s National Security Strategy envisions preemptive strikes as potentially the best policy for dealing with North Korea’s nuclear weapons. It is no surprise that North Korea is concerned that it will undermine its deterrence posture if it gives up its nuclear weapons program. Kang views North Korea’s nuclear weapons program as a diplomatic tool for exchanging security guarantees and salvaging its economy through negotiations with the United States. Sohn (2012) explores ways in which minor powers can establish their position in the world’s unipolar system. In general, there are two options for minor powers to ensure their survival. First, they can adopt a balance of power strategy with middle powers that do not agree to comply with the norms and rules shaped by the Great Powers. Second, minor powers can bandwagon with a Great Power by acceding to its norms and rules. Sohn argues that North Korea, as a minor power, had to adopt one of these two options in dealing with threats from South Korea and the United States. Pyongyang implemented its military-first policy to maintain a balance of power as a means of deterring South Korea’s policy of ‘unification by absorption’. Therefore, Sohn concludes, Pyongyang concentrated on building strong military forces armed with nuclear weapons to ensure its security while simultaneously trying to attract the attention of the U.S. in confrontational ways both to gain support its economic recovery and to enhance the legitimacy of its regime.

Suh (2003) explores the modus operandi and effects of North Korea’s brinkmanship diplomacy aimed at concluding a nonaggression treaty with the United States to assuage its military and security threats. Brinkmanship means that benefits are maximized by one party threatening the other ‒ or intentionally creating a crisis ‒ to induce the other party to make concessions. The characteristics of brinkmanship are: 1) the existence of outside threats; 2) expectations of concessions from other parties; and 3) a strong will to resist an external threat. In the case of North Korea, there was a threat in the form of the military power of the U.S., the most powerful country in the post-Cold War era. North Korea believed in the probability of drawing concessions from the United States by developing weapons of mass destruction and resisting subjugation to international norms. If the U.S. refused to respond as desired, aggressive, or threatening actions could be taken (p. 160). Suh argues that North Korea focused its brinkmanship on the U.S. because the U.S. threatened its national security through potential nuclear attacks and actual economic sanctions. Also, changes in the international environment and its weak national power forced North Korea to adopt a brinkmanship strategy. Ironically, Pyongyang perceived the U.S. as a target for negotiations that could comprehensively address its national interests. Normalizing relations with the U.S. could be a rational and efficient choice for acquiring security guarantees, maintaining national prestige, and restoring the economy all at the same time.

The expansionist and irrational views rely on the endemic enemy explanation of the relations between North Korea and the United States. This explanation reflects two fundamental points of contention in U.S.-North Korean relations: North Korea’s forceful attempt to reunify the Korean peninsula in 1950, and the persistent demand by North Korea for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from South Korea. Unlike the diplomacy and security factors explanations, the expansionist and irrational views are radical because they posit that North Korea always has wanted to achieve its goals by inciting a war with the United States. This radical analysis focuses on elites in Pyongyang, especially Kim Il Sung’s perceptions of the United States and his unwavering commitment to the goal of the reunification of the Korean peninsula right up until his death in July 1994. According to this view, Kim was not satisfied with the status quo, and believed that the reunification had to be achieved by military means, including the use of nuclear weapons (Kang, 1995). The deployment of military forces along the demilitarized zone (DMZ), the installation of heavy artillery pieces north of the DMZ aimed at Seoul, the development of long-range missiles, and the production of nuclear‒biological-chemical weapons are cited as evidence supporting the expansionist argument. North Korea’s export of missiles ‒ and allegedly even its nuclear technology ‒ to other countries or terrorist groups also is cited as evidence of its aggressive behavior:

In the past decade North Korea has become the world’s principal purveyor of ballistic missiles and has tested increasingly capable missiles while developing its own WMD arsenal. Other rogue regimes seek nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons as well. These states’ pursuit of, and global trade in, such weapons has become a looming threat to all nations. We must be prepared to stop rogue states and their terrorist clients before they are able to threaten or use weapons of mass destruction against the United States and our allies and friends (The National Security Strategy of the United States of America, 2002, p. 14). Cha (2002) argues that North Korea’s irrational behaviors derive from the regime’s opacity and the recklessness and unpredictability of its leadership. In his view, Pyongyang’s leaders are likely to interpret the use of limited military force ‒ such as preemptive military strikes ‒ as a rational course of action (p. 47). He assumes these preemptive military strikes would be motivated by fear and a sense of vulnerability. These motivations are rooted in the aggregate effects of negative economic growth, the yearly shortfalls foodstuffs, chronic energy shortages, and the threat posed by an increasingly confident and militarily superior South Korea.

Despite the economic crisis of the 1990s, North Korea spent 30 percent of its budget on defense. For those like Cha who use the ‘Securitization’ Paradigm in their policy analysis, such ‘irrational’ decision-making shows that North Korea had become a ‘mad’ or a ‘garrison’ state. Moreover, as one of the most militarized societies in the world, it would willingly wage total war against its peace-loving neighbors (Smith, 2000). In this sense, for these analysts, Pyongyang is viewed as an untrustworthy party not fit for negotiations due to its refusal to comply with international norms and rules regarding its nuclear program.

Indeed, Mazarr (1995) explains that the unpredictability of North Korea’s behavior was manifested in the early 1990s. After traces of weapons-grade Plutonium were detected in North Korea, the George H. W. Bush administration offered inducements for halting the nuclear program (p. 95). The inducements included the withdrawal of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons from South Korea, suspension of the annual joint U.S.-ROK military exercise, and a one-time diplomatic exchange with North Korea in New York in 1992. North Korea agreed to accept the IAEA’s inspections in response to these inducements. Only a little over a year later, however, North Korea rejected the IAEA’s request for ‘special inspections’ at its nuclear sites. Pyongyang also refused to grant access to its covert nuclear facilities in other parts of the country. Countermeasures were imposed by the U.S. in response to what it considered to be this unpredictable behavior by North Korea, including economic sanctions. These countermeasures notwithstanding, after rejecting a request by the IAEA on February 9, 1993, for permission to conduct ‘special inspections’ of two suspect facilities, North Korea declared its intention to withdraw from the NPT on March 12, 1993 (p. 95). Pyongyang’s seemingly unpredictable behavior caused a crisis atmosphere on the peninsula, and rumors of impending war hung in the air.

Despite the perceptions of North Korea’s unpredictability, theoretically, and its presumed ambition to possess nuclear weapons is hardly surprising. There are fundamental motivations for states to develop nuclear weapons. Sagan (1996) explains that states will seek to develop nuclear weapons when facing a significant military threat to their security that cannot be met through alternative means. According to Sagan, nuclear weapons increase national security against foreign threats and advance parochial domestic and bureaucratic interests (p. 55). Based on this theoretical perspective, North Korea might well have concluded that nuclear weapons could stabilize its domestic politics and deter foreign threats. Support for this theoretical perspective can be found in the work of a prominent group of political scientists, including Kenneth Waltz, John Mearsheimer, and William Riker. All of them endorse the view that nuclear proliferation can bring about stability in international relations (Sagan, 1994, p. 66). In the same context, some scholars argue that the acquisition of nuclear weapons by Germany and Ukraine could deter Russian military interventions. Similarly, nuclear proliferation in the Middle East could inject stability between the parties to the Arab Israeli conflict. In this context of ‘proliferation optimism’, the possession of nuclear weapons is an act of rationality for security’s sake that reduces the likelihood of a war or a conflict. Contrary to this theoretical consensus, then, why do some scholars in the field of U.S.-North Korea relations continue to think that Pyongyang’s leadership is irrational, and its nuclear weapons program threatens the regime’s stability?

Cha (2004) argues that North Korea has violated a series of agreements, including the non-proliferation treaty (NPT), the 1994 U.S.-DPRK Agreed Framework, and the 1992 Joint Declaration of the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. In particular, he notes that Pyongyang’s withdrawal from the NPT is unprecedented compared with other nuclear states. Its unprecedented action is further acerbated by its refusal to cooperate with the IAEA in compliance with international norms and rules (p. 230). Moreover, he argues, North Korea is alleged to possess one of the most massive stockpiles of biological and chemical weapons in the world. At the same time, the regime militarily empowers itself while people in the country are starving. Additionally, North Korea has attacked South Korea across their shared border, including the shelling of Yeongpyeong Island and the sinking of the South Korea frigate Cheonan in 2010. Cha cites these aggressive actions and belligerent behaviors as indications of North Korea’s inveterate determination to continue developing nuclear weapons and missiles to disturb regional stability. Many scholars in the field of regional security studies agree that external constraints after the Cold War led to North Korea becoming isolated and at risk of developing nuclear weapons for the sake of regime survival. However, questions remain about when and how a leader acts rationally in the face of external threats and domestic chaos.

Kang (1995) believes that assumptions about the leader’s attitudes and rationality are necessary in explaining North Korean foreign policy. In that case, it must be accepted that a different North Korean leader would have produced a different set of outcomes. Kang also argues that in the face of declining Great Power support, a minor state must undertake self-help measures to secure its defense. North Korea was grabbling with an acute awareness of its security vulnerability in the 1990s. Traditional allies were deserting the North, the country had a stagnant economic infrastructure, and the South appeared to be increasingly threatening. DPRK’s Foreign Minister Kim Yong-Nam said that “the détente between the Soviet Union and South Korea will leave us no other choice but to take measures to provide for ourselves some weapons for which we have so far relied on the Soviet Union” (Kang, 1995, p. 267).

SITUATIONAL IMPERATIVE FRAMEWORK

The situational imperative framework for modeling foreign policy behavior provides a clear structure for analyzing international events by highlighting each actor’s role in any given situation. This approach has three major advantages: 1) situations are observable; 2) situations organize the external environment; and 3) situations offer necessary antecedents for predicting action (Hudson, Hermann, and Singer 1989, 118). The situational imperative framework constitutes a model for predicting “foreign policy behavior” based on the different roles involved in dealing with a specific foreign problem. The model assumes a minimum set of roles including an actor, a source, and a subject. It also recognizes the subsidiary role of a facilitator, or potential facilitator, who supports one or more role occupants. Each role has a unique function, but all roles interact with each other. The model requires that one entity be designated as the foreign policy ‘actor’ whose perspective defines the problem. Other situationally involved entities ‒ either governments or non-governmental entities ‒ play various roles defined by the actor’s perspective. Every problem has a perceived ‘source’ or cause that the actor (rightly or wrongly) holds responsible for its consequences. The actor’s policymakers may regard any human entities ‒ or even a natural event ‒ as a source of the problem at issue. A group of entities or persons suffering due to the agency of the source are defined as ‘the subject’, which completes the minimum set of roles. Besides these roles, the set also may include a ‘facilitator’ defined as an entity the actor perceives to be aligned with itself or one of the other role occupants. The facilitator (or potential facilitator) neither caused the problem nor suffers from it but is currently assisting (or soon can assist) one of the role occupants. Finally, a facilitator for someone the actor opposes would be an ‘aggravator’ from the actor’s perspective (pp. 118-119).

The relationships among role occupants have dimensions that involve assessments of the actor’s motivation, autonomy, and power base. The model introduces three dimensions: prior effect, salience, and relative capabilities. The prior effect dimension explains an entity’s expressed feeling toward another entity varying from extreme hostility to unequivocal friendship. Salience, the second dimension, entails an assessment of the degree to which an actor’s feeling toward another entity is manifested. If the realization of an actor’s goals or well-being is contingent on the status, resources, or actions another entity, then the relationship with that entity is salient. The last dimension of the relationship is relative capabilities. If the actor’s behavior is directed toward another entity, it is essential to consider whether other entities have capabilities to neutralize the actor’s retaliation.

An essential element in this model of foreign policy behavior is the types of situations based on roles. It introduces four types of situations: confrontation; intervention; assistance; and collaboration. Each situation has different explanations of the relationships between actor, salience, and subject. First, confrontation is likely to occur when the actor is being affected by the problem or as the result of it. In this case, an entity that raises the problem challenges the actor. Second, intervention is likely to occur when separate entities are occupying the three fundamental roles. In this case, the actor ‒ as a third party ‒ must decide whether to intervene when an external entity has created a problem for another external entity. Third, the assistance situation is likely to happen when the actor has created his own problem and seeks a solution from an outsider who might be able to help, by serving as a potential facilitator, for example. Fourth, collaboration is likely to happen when the actor and one or more other entities acknowledge themselves to be both the source and the subject of the problem. Both are likely to negotiate and solve a problem by issuing a communiqué or concluding a treaty.

A state’s foreign policy behavior is a way of influencing other entities as well as a way of communicating with others. “As a form of communication foreign policy behavior can be divided into the attributes of any communicative act ‒ who, does what, to whom, and how” (p. 124). In the model, the actor (i.e., the ‘who’) is the entity defining the problem. The attributes of communication can be explained by four behavior properties as follows: 1) recipient designates the entity the actor addresses (i.e., ‘to whom’); 2) affect is the actor’s manifest feelings of approval or disapproval (i.e., ‘does or expresses what’); 2) commitment indicates the actor’s resolve to seek a solution to a problem; and 4) instruments consist of the skills and resources of statecraft that the actor deploys to solve a problem (i.e., ‘how’).

This research project employs a qualitative case-study approach involving a methodology of process-tracing and historical explanation. A qualitative case study can establish a causal effect between independent variables and dependent variables (George & Benett, 2005). This type of method enables scholars to apply a substantially broadened range of techniques to their comparative research with small-N analysis. It also helps scholars find regularities through juxtapositions of historical cases and generates an observed sequence of events (Goldstone, 1991). In addition, the process-tracing method can investigate and explain the decision-making process through exploring initial conditions of historical events and converting them into the outcomes of an analysis. In other words, process-tracing provides a theoretical explanation of the causal mechanism between historical events as independent variables and the outcomes of a particular phenomenon. George and Benett (2005) define the characteristics of the process-tracing method as obtaining “the outcome flows from the convergences of several conditions as independent variables or causal chains” (p. 212). In this sense, process-tracing techniques can apply in cases composed of a sequence of events. Some events start certain paths in the development and steer the outcome in other directions. In this case, policymakers must consider when a decision is likely to reduce the chances of achieving policy goals and subsequently resort to making changes to have a second chance to achieve the desired policy goals (p. 213).

With these case study methods, this study focuses on North Korea’s foreign policy behavior toward the United States in the Cold War and post-Cold War eras. As noted in the section on the objectives of this study, the main goal is to explain why North Korea had to change its course of action after the détente between the U.S. and China in 1972. The détente serves as an independent variable explaining North Korea’s foreign policy behaviors toward the United States compared with its rapprochement approaches during the Cold War. The investigation of specific events posits three principal roles, the relationships between them, and the situations they confront during the formation of foreign policies. The compositions of the roles are actor, source, and subject. The characteristics of the relationships between them include the dimensions of prior affect, salience, relative capabilities, facilitator, and potential facilitator. The situation is delineated as confrontation, intervention, assistance, or collaboration. Subsequently, North Korea’s behaviors had to be modified because of the détente between the Soviet Union/Russia and South Korea and China and South Korea, which served as independent variables following the end of the Cold War. Pyongyang faced both domestic and international challenges because of these events. As independent variables, they explain North Korea’s confrontational approaches to the U.S. as a departure from the initial approaches during the Cold War. In terms of the realist perspective in international relations theory, ‘abandonment’ is a sense of betrayal that causes a state to change its foreign policy behavior. North Korea’s leadership decided to develop a nuclear program to compensate for energy shortages and to ensure its national security. The nuclear program, as the source, attracted the United States’ attention and served to buttress the confrontational approach in negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington. The behavioral attributes in the post-Cold War era inevitably differed from the behavioral attributes during the Cold War.

This study’s primary sources will be the Rodong Sinmun (‘Labor Daily’) and the North Korean Central Agency (KCNA) Website. These two sources are important in exploring how North Korea’s foreign policy is reflected in its media outlets. Additionally, other primary documentary sources for the study will be drawn from the archives of the North Korea International Documentation Project at the Woodrow Wilson Center. The center collects and translates all diplomatic documentation released by countries that once had formal relations with North Korea. This documentation details conversations between Kim Il Sung and diplomats from former communist countries around the world during the Cold War. The conversations also convey Kim Il Sung’s views on the issue of détente, which allows this study to find a starting point in unearthing North Korea’s decision to approach the U.S. beginning in the 1970s. Archives from other institutions with documentary resources pertaining to relations between North Korea and the United States also will be included in this study.

TWO IMPERATIVE SITUATIONS

THE U.S.-CHINA DÉTENTE IN THE EARLY 1970S

The process of rapprochement between China and the United States took a long time. The two countries experienced a prolonged period of hostility because of the Korean War (1950-1953). By the late 1960s, however, the perception of China in the U.S. had changed considerably. Nixon said, “We must not forget China. We must always seek opportunities to talk with China as we did with the USSR. We must not only watch for changes. We must seek to make changes” (Panda, 1997). Subsequently, the Nixon administration took a series of actions to ease barriers for U.S. citizens traveling to China, but this measure was limited to travel by Congress members, journalists, and scholars. After Nixon visited Guam in July 1969, the administration announced the reduction of American military involvement in all of Asia. This indicated that the U.S.’s foreign policy toward Asian countries, including China, had changed fundamentally. It also signaled an openness to engagement with China. Known as the Guam Doctrine or Nixon Doctrine, the new policy stated that the United States would no longer be a ‘global policeman’ and had abandoned its policy of containing China (p. 47). The U.S. also announced the removal of restrictions on participation by U.S. businesses in third-country trading of Chinese goods and liberalized the customs regulations governing their importation.

The Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai replied that a special envoy of President Nixon would be welcomed by Beijing provided the U.S. was prepared to talk about Taiwan’s status. U.S. forces were still occupying Taiwan at that point, and the Chinese wanted them withdrawn. They also wanted the U.S. to drop its opposition to China’s accession to a seat on the UN Security Council. Both sides agreed to a discussion of the issue of Taiwan. In the instructions prepared for the talks by the Chinese foreign ministry, there was a negotiating position by Zhou Enlai that stated: “If the U.S. reiterates that the U.S. and Taiwan have a relationship based on a treaty, [our position is that] the treaty is not recognized by the Chinese people” (Xia 2006, 12). In other words, the U.S. had to support the ‘One-China policy’ if it wished to engage with Beijing (Panda 1997, 49). Zhou also conveyed China’s position that both a special envoy and President Nixon himself would be welcomed in Beijing if they were willing to discuss the Taiwan issue. On the U.S. side, Henry Kissinger stressed that the talks should not be limited solely to the Taiwan question but should encompass other steps as well toward improved relations and a reduction of tensions.

This signaled that both countries had begun viewing each other in terms of geopolitical strategy rather than in ideological terms. The United States had to deal with the ongoing Vietnam War and did not want to get involved in a conflict with China. The no-win situation of the U.S. in Vietnam undermined its superpower status. For its part, in 1968, Beijing had become embroiled in a conflict with the Soviet Union over Qilixin Island, which is located on the Chinese side of the main channel of the Ussuri River. Also, the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968 made leaders in Beijing wary about the Soviet Union’s intentions (Xia, 2006). Heavily armed conflicts between China and the Soviet Union at the border increased, and a broader military confrontation seemed likely to happen. Chinese leaders were convinced Moscow was intending to wage war against China. As tensions with the Soviet Union increased, China had to adjust its foreign and security policy strategies. Mao and Zhou concluded that ‘the U.S. card’ had to be played to halt the Soviet’s aggression (p. 7). These events surrounding the two countries paved the way for rapprochement. Chairman Mao began to take a positive view of the U.S., despite opposition from a group led by Lin Biao. The U.S., for its part, realized that maintaining the policy of containment would damage relations with China. Accordingly, the Nixon administration began referring to China’s communist regime as the People’s Republic of China ‒ its official name ‒ in official documents for the first time.2

At present, contacts between peoples of China and the United States are being renewed. However, as the relations between China and the U.S.A. are to be restored fundamentally, a solution to this crucial question can be found only through direct discussions between high-level responsible persons of the two countries. Therefore, the Chinese Government reaffirms its willingness to receive publicly in Peking a special envoy of the president of the U.S. (for instance, Mr. Kissinger) or the U.S. Secretary of State or even the President of the U.S. himself for direct meeting and discussions.3

Nixon’s Visit to China

Following Kissinger successful visit to Beijing, both countries issued a statement on July 15 announcing President Nixon’s intention to visit Beijing. This announcement shocked allies of both China and the United States. It indicated that the Sino-American relations would change significantly from the previous condition of prolonged hostility to a new era of rapprochement. Both sides took the forthcoming summit very seriously. On the U.S. side, Nixon’s political risk was immense even though he believed the trip to China would be a historical event. To ensure the success of his visit, Nixon decided to send Kissinger to Beijing for a second time to discuss in detail the dates for the visit, the agenda of the meetings, the media coverage, and security issues. For that purpose, contact was made through the so-called ‘Paris Channel’. A joint statement was issued on October 5 stating that a delegation led by Kissinger would visit Beijing on October 20 to make the necessary arrangements for President Nixon’s visit.

On the policy front, the Taiwan issue once again was discussed in depth during the second meeting in Beijing. The Chinese side continued to probe the U.S. side for a clarification of its position on Taiwan’s status. The Chinese wanted to know whether the U.S. viewed it as a province of mainland China or as an independent state allied with the U.S. China emphasized that a peaceful settlement of the issue of Taiwan would be feasible if the U.S. government expressed unambiguous support for the One-China policy. The Chinese side insisted that the defense treaty between the U.S. and Taiwan was illegal and reiterated its demand that the U.S. troops in Taiwan had to be withdrawn. This was stated as a precondition for the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and the U.S. The Chinese side also stated they could not send an ambassador to Washington if there was another accredited Chinese ambassador there.4

Zhou devoted considerable time and passion to a discussion of the subject of North Korea, which was the third item on the agenda. In the 1970s, the three principals ‘powder kegs’ in East Asia were Taiwan, Indochina, and Korea. Zhou pointed out that the Korean Question5 had not been addressed seriously by the U.S. during the Geneva Conference in 1954, and as a result there still was no peace treaty ending the Korean War. Also, North Korea was not permitted to participate in the annual U.N. debate on the Korean Question, including in the deliberations of the U.N. Commission for the Unification and Rehabilitation of Korea (UNCURK).6 China’s foreign policy position on North Korea was clear cut. The U.S. military forces had to be withdrawn from the Korean peninsula, just as the Chinese forces had been withdrawn in 1955. At the same time, the Chinese side brought up the issue of Japan’s likely response to the end of a U.S. military presence on the Korean peninsula. Kissinger assured his Chinese interlocutors that the U.S. had the same policy for the Korean peninsula as for Taiwan, indicating that the replacement of the U.S. forces with Japanese self-defense forces was not an option the U.S. was considering as it was opposed to military expansion by Japan.7 Continuing the same subject, Zhou handed Kissinger a document listing eight points that had been drafted by the North Korean government and published in April 1971. This document consisted of a series of demands as follows: withdrawing U.S. forces from the Korean peninsula; ending U.S. military support for South Korea; granting North Korea an equal status with South Korea; preventing a resurgence of Japanese influence in South Korea; disbanding UNCURK; leaving the resolution of the Korean Question to the Koreans themselves; and permitting North Korea to participate unconditionally in the annual UN debate on the Korean Question.8

Nixon’s visit to China was an extraordinary event symbolic of the thawing tensions in the Cold War between the capitalist and communist blocs. Over the period of February 21-28, 1972, President Richard Nixon ‒ the first U.S. President to visit China ‒ played an essential role in reestablishing diplomatic relations with China after decades of mutual estrangement. A historic handshake was exchanged between President Nixon and Premier Zhou upon Nixon’s arrival in Beijing. His meeting with Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong on the first day of his visit was another historical highlight. In the meeting, Mao stated his personal view that the Taiwan issue was an internal Chinese affair of relatively minor significance. This was his way of suggesting that the U.S. and China had better use their energies to deal with the weightier issues of the current international situation (Panda 1997, 55). In Mao’s view, for example, the Soviet Union was a significant threat to both China and the United States. After a long battle of drafting the joint communiqué, the ‘Joint Statement Following Discussions with Leaders of the People’s Republic of China’ was issued on February 28, 1972. It has commonly become known as the Shanghai Communiqué. China and the United States found it beneficial to seize the opportunity of Nixon’s visit to normalize relations as well as to cooperate on other matters of interest to both sides. In the communiqué, both parties provided their assessment of the current international situation, noted the significant changes and great upheavals taking place, and expounded on their respective policy positions and diplomatic stances.9 Notably, the U.S. stated its support for the right of the peoples of Southeast Asia to shape their own futures in peace, free of military threats, and without being the locus of great power rivalry. This was an indication of the Nixon administration’s sense of urgency about ending the Vietnam War.

Regarding the Korean question, the U.S. declared it would continue to maintain its close ties with and support for the Republic of Korea. The U.S. also pledged to “support efforts of the Republic of Korea to seek a relaxation of tension and increased communication in the Korean peninsula.” Regarding Japan, the communiqué reaffirmed that the “United States places the highest value on its friendly relations with Japan; it will continue to develop the existing close bonds.” The U.S. side also welcomed the United Nations Security Council resolution of December 21, 1971, on “the continuation of the ceasefire between India and Pakistan and the withdrawal of all military forces within their own territories.” Regarding Korean issue, the Chinese side expressed its support for “the eight-point program for the peaceful unification of Korea put forward by the government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea on April 12, 1971, and the stand for the abolition of the U.N commission for the Unification and Rehabilitation of Korea.”

North Korea’s Responses to the Détente

When Henry Kissinger secretly visited China to meet Zhou Enlai in July 1971, a North Korean delegation led by Kim Jung-rin, the secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK), also was visiting China. Kim Il Sung, the leader of North Korea at the time, had not been informed of Kissinger’s visit to China by a Chinese delegation visiting Pyongyang to celebrate the “Week of Friendship.” Kim only learned of Kissinger’s visit after Zhou Enlai traveled to Pyongyang on the 14th of July and briefed Kim on the meeting between China and the United States. Pyongyang assessed the visit to be ‘a great victory’ for the Chinese people and communist revolutionary people worldwide (Schaefer, 2004). Kim viewed the meeting as a sign of the decline of U.S. imperialism, and the at long last triumph of the communist movement.

Today, the American imperialist faces a serious political, economic, and military crisis at home. By itself, Nixon’s visit to China aims to improve relations with China to temporarily ease tensions and buy time to catch one’s breath. Nixon’s visit to China is not very strange. There are many cases where the Communists temporarily compromise with the enemy to change the situation in favor of the revolution when looking back on the history of the world’s revolutionary struggle. In the past, the Soviet Union signed a peace treaty with the enemy just before World War II, a nonaggression treaty with fascist Germany, and a neutral treaty with the Japanese imperialists. Therefore, there is no reason to criticize China, paying keen attention to Nixon’s visit to China.10

The Korean peninsula issue was one of the Chinese government’s top priorities as it was linked with the concept of three principal ‘powder kegs’ in East Asia. Along with Taiwan, Indochina, and Korea constituted one of the most urgent issues facing China’s foreign policy. Zhou told President Nixon during their meeting that China agreed with North Korea that the time had come for the UNCURK to be disbanded. “That would be a good thing.” Nixon replied. “You raised that with Dr. Kissinger, and we are looking into it.” In the final act of this first step toward détente with the U.S., the issuance of the Shanghai Communiqué, the Chinese side took official notice of North Korea’s demands.

THE RUSSIA/CHINA -SOUTH KOREA DÉTENTE IN THE EARLY 1990S

The Russia-South Korea Détente

The Soviet Union began to realize that South Korea’s economic development experienced rapid growth by establishing economic, scientific, technological, monetary, and financial ties with foreign countries (Fedorovsky, 1989). The most compelling reason for the Soviet Union to consider making South Korea one of its partners was its high regard for South Korea’s economic development and latent power for further growth. Furthermore, the success of the Seoul Olympics (1988), the democratization of South Korean society (1987), and the Nordpolitik (‘Northern Policy’) enunciated by President Roh Tae-woo in July 1988 influenced the Soviet Union’s favorable impression of South Korea. Geopolitically, the emergence of the growing internationalization of economic ties in the Asia-Pacific region was another reason for the Soviet Union (and China) to normalize relations with South Korea and Japan, respectively (p. 98). Moscow responded to South Korea’s Northern Policy two months later. Gorbachev suggested the possibility and desirability of economic cooperation between the USSR and South Korea. In Gorbachev’s speech at Krasnoyarsk, he stressed that his government was willing to take a significant step to create a new atmosphere in Northeast Asia. In a similar vein, President Roh announced that South Korea also was willing to take positive steps to improve its relations with both the People’s Republic of China and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics as well as East European nations. He also suggested that “a consultative conference for peace” be convened with representatives from the U.S., the USSR, the PRC, and Japan as well as North and South Korea to explore the construction of a solid foundation for lasting peace and prosperity in Northeast Asia (Kim 1997, 643). Moscow welcomed the South Korean government’s proposal as “the creation of a mechanism of consultation, given the consent of all the interested parties, for discussing this range of problems that could play a positive role in strengthening a climate of confidence and dialogue in the region” (Mikheev 1989, 675).

President Roh was informed by former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz that Gorbachev would visit the United States for a summit meeting with President George H. W. Bush in early June of 1990. Gorbachev’s itinerary included a side trip to Palo Alto for a meeting with Shultz at Stanford University. This involved a brief stopover in San Francisco following the summit. Roh immediately launched a diplomatic operation to arrange a Roh-Gorbachev meeting in San Francisco that was named “Five percent” since initially that seemed to be the probability of success (Kim 1997, 646). Following an official announcement by both Seoul and Moscow, the summit was held in San Francisco at the Hotel Fairmont on June 4, 1990. The summit was a truly historic event since the Soviet Union became the first major power to grant de facto recognition to both Koreas (Ahn 1991, 824). It also was the first time that the heads of state of the Soviet Union and South Korea, which had been ideological and military adversaries since the division of the Korean peninsula after World War II, had met to speak with one another.11 Roh said that “The cold-war ice on the Korean peninsula has now begun to crack.” Gorbachev added that “the meeting signified that progress has already been made along those lines.”12 This shared perspective indicated that the international environment in Northeast Asia had begun to change. Roh stressed this point saying, “the waves of reform now reshaping the world have started rushing toward Northeast Asia as well. I am confident that the cultivation of Republic of Korea-Soviet Union relations will contribute not only to the common prosperity of both countries but also to peace in Asia, especially on the Korean peninsula.”13

Both sides shared a common view on a variety of issues. As a starter, they agreed to expand exchanges and cooperation in diplomacy, commerce, science and technology, and culture. They also confirmed their conviction that the construction of a permanent peace on the Korean peninsula and in Northeast Asia depended on bringing the long period of hostility to an end and starting new relations. Roh affirmed that his government did not want to further isolate North Korea or incite it to take a hostile stance toward neighboring countries. In response, Gorbachev promised to try and urge North Korea to open up to the outside world and to establish friendly and cooperative relationships with other members of the international community. Lastly, both leaders agreed on the need for a new order of reconciliation and cooperation among the world’s nations and made a joint commitment to help promote the openness and reconciliation needed to enhance regional peace and stability and to reduce tensions on the Korean peninsula (Kim 1997, 648).

① Normalization of USSR-ROK Relations

Following the June summit in San Francisco, a high-ranking delegation of South Korea government officials led by Kim Chong-in and Kim Chong-hui arrived in Moscow on August 2. During a brief two-day visit, the delegation met with 13 Soviet officials led by Yuri Maslyukov, first deputy premier and head of the State Planning Agency (Kim 1997, 649). In this high-level meeting between the two countries, the South Korean side indicated that the establishment of diplomatic relations was a precondition for providing economic assistance to the Soviet Union. The Soviets counter-proposed that economic cooperation was a prerequisite for the establishment of diplomatic relations. Elaborating on their position, the South Korean officials explained that their government could not make an offer of economic assistance to the Soviets without the prior establishment of diplomatic relations since the South Korean legislature would not approve it. The Soviets realized that they had no alternative agreed to establish diplomatic relations. As a result, the first-ever, government-to-government negotiation between South Korea and the USSR reached wide-ranging accords. Besides agreeing on industrial, scientific, and technological cooperation, the two sides agreed to hold a second round of official talks in Seoul in October (p. 650).

On September 30, 1990, at the first-ever official foreign ministerial meeting of the two countries in the United Nations headquarters, South Korea and the Soviet Union finally normalized diplomatic relations. The normalization of their relations was a watershed event foreshadowing the impending end of the Cold War precipitated by the collapse of the Soviet Union. The foreign ministers of the two countries signed the joint communiqué announcing the opening of their embassies in Seoul and Moscow. The communiqué further stated that “the two countries were convinced that the ongoing efforts would contribute to stability and peace on the Korean peninsula and will push ahead with diplomatic relations on the premise that it would never affect relations between each of them and third countries” (Kim 1997, 650). The South Korean foreign minister Choi Ho-Jung announced in a joint press conference that both countries had agreed in principle to arrange an exchange of visits by their heads of state at the earliest opportunity (p. 650). Regarding membership in the United Nations, the Soviet Union agreed to support the simultaneous admission of both North Korea and South Korea to membership in the UN.

Subsequently, in December 1990, President Roh Tae Woo visited Moscow for a summit meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev, marking a first for a South Korean president. Roh and Gorbachev issued a joint statement known as the Moscow Declaration articulating the principle that “through consultation between the two nations and concerned parties in the Asia and Pacific region, peaceful and constructive cooperation should be encouraged” (p. 650). In the following month, both countries signed an economic cooperation agreement in which South Korea pledged to provide the Soviet Union with \$3 billion in loans over three years, a third of which would be in cash. The remainders of the loan credits were to be used to purchase South Korean consumer and capital goods. Moscow’s policy shift in in extending diplomatic recognition to South Korea was designed to consolidate the economic gains of their unfolding cooperation and to entice Japan and other countries to get on board for a more active participation in the Soviet Union’s Siberian development efforts (p. 817).

On his way back to Moscow, however, Gorbachev had a more productive meeting on Cheju Island with President Roh Tae Woo during a brief stopover in South Korea. During this third summit meeting in less than ten months, which epitomized the rapid acceleration of their relationship, Gorbachev and Roh agreed to “negotiate a mutual cooperation treaty and to multiply trade tenfold over the next five years in an effort to assist the Soviet Union’s faltering economy.”14 In this meeting with Roh, Gorbachev also promised to continue to support South Korea’s entry into the United Nations even though North Korea had rejected the proposal for a joint entry by the North and South as separate nations. Pyongyang adamantly opposed the Soviet Union’s proposal for membership in the UN as two separate nations because it believed such a move would perpetuate the division of the Korean peninsula (p. 651). Enjoying the economic benefits of the change in its relations with South Korea, Moscow essentially was committed to a “Two Korea” policy and had begun to decouple the Korean issue from its global rivalry with Washington.

② North Korea’s Responses to the Normalization

The Soviet Union’s foreign policy changes toward the Korean peninsula had major implications for its relations with the DPRK. As early as 1991, an economist in the Russian Academy of Sciences noted that the emerging discontinuities between the social processes in the USSR and the DPRK could have “irreversible consequences for the entire complex of relations since the USSR remains the major economic partner of the DPRK” (Mikheev 1991, 39). As the USSR’s economic reform became ever more radical, it became the political and administrative catalysts in the weakening of relations between the two countries. North Korea was dependent on the Soviet Union for 60 percent of its trade and foreign credits. In particular, the writer noted, Pyongyang would face an economic crisis if the supply of Soviet oil and metallurgical and energy equipment were stopped. Previously, Moscow and Pyongyang maintained a special relationship due to their shared commitment to the unity of the “socialist goal” that had drawn both countries together since the Korean War. In the 1990s, however, the new political thinking (perestroika) in the USSR, the emerging political pluralism, growing Soviet-U.S. interactions, and Soviet-South Korea normalization were erecting an almost insurmountable wall in Soviet-North Korea relations.

Once Moscow established diplomatic ties with Seoul, Pyongyang-Moscow relations were transformed from an alliance based on the ideological and strategic bonds cemented during the Cold War into being simply the transactional relations of neighboring states (Ahn 1991, 818). On the other hand, North Korea’s reaction to this new geopolitical reality was becoming negative and emotional to the highest degree. Once the establishment of diplomatic relations between Moscow and Seoul had been decided, the Kremlin sent his foreign minister Eduard Shevardnadze to Pyongyang as an envoy to try and assuage Kim Il Sung’s anger and sense of betrayal. Kim refused to meet with Shevardnadze, a breach of protocol he had never experienced previously in his foreign service career. Even Kim Yong-nam, who as the DPRK’s foreign minister was his counterpart, had to break away from his meeting with Shevardnadze several times. After meeting with Kim Il Sung during one of these breaks, Kim Yong-nam handed Shevardnadze a written memorandum that contained North Korea’s decision to readjust its position with the Soviet Union. North Korea’s bottom line on the changed position of the Soviet Union in the memorandum was summarized by Aleksandr Kapto, the Soviet ambassador in Pyongyang, as follows:

As the North Korean minister stated, the establishment of diplomatic relations between the USSR and South Korea by itself leads to the cancellation of the Korean-Soviet treaty of alliance, which was signed in July 1961. It was directly stated that the Soviet side systematically violated the Korean-Soviet treaty of alliance.

The China-South Korea Détente

China also was seeking to overcome the obstacles it faced in developing diplomatic relations with South Korea. Above all, as China’s international isolation had deepened after the Tiananmen Square incident in 1989, breaking out of the strictures of diplomatic isolation became a high priority as China focused on its plans to host the 1990 Summer Asian Games in Beijing. But the North Korean ‘factor’ remained a major obstacle to the establishment of diplomatic relations between South Korea and China.

After an initial unofficial meeting of their foreign ministers during a subcommittee meeting of the U.N. Security Council on October 2, 1991, the two sides recognized the need for diplomatic ties to facilitate negotiations on a trade agreement. South Korea extended an invitation to Chinese Foreign Minister Chen Chi-Chen’s to attend the upcoming APEC meeting, which was scheduled to be held in Seoul on October 12, 1991. Chen accepted the invitation and paid a courtesy call on President Roh Tae-woo during a separate meeting at the Blue House. In their meeting, President Roh Tae-woo informed Chen of South Korea’s interest in establishing diplomatic relations with China (Kim 2013, 68-69). During a meeting two days later with his South Korean counterpart, Lee Sang-ok, Chen made it clear that China still faced obstacles to the establishment of diplomatic relations with South Korea, but he confirmed that this was a goal he hoped could be realized as soon as possible.

At that time, the principle governing policy toward South Korea in the Chinese Foreign Ministry and the Foreign Trade Ministry was as follows: ‘Make enemies friends’ (化敵爲友). In applying this principle, exchanges were to begin with the private sector, and only later involve the government. No matter how much work was done, there should be little ‒ or, better yet, ‒ no talk at all about it. The efforts were to proceed on a step-by-step basis and be revealed only little-by-little as the goal was being reached. The Chinese negotiators were keenly aware that they needed to keep an eye on North Korea’s attitude and assess its reactions to the development of relations between South Korea and China (Lee 2019, 131).

① Normalization of China-South Korea Relations

1) At the third meeting of the Fifth Supreme People’s Assembly on March 25, 1974, North Korea resolved to negotiate directly with the United States to ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula and promote peace. The proposal was to replace the armistice agreement with a peace treaty. The proposal included: a non-aggression pact; non-interference in domestic affairs; suspension of the military buildup and arms race; suspension of the introduction of military materials into Korea; prohibition on the continuing operation of the United Nations Forces Command; and the withdrawal of foreign forces in Korea. In response to the North’s proposal for a peace treaty, the U.S. suggested direct talks between the two Koreas and declared its willingness to recognize North Korea and develop diplomatic relations if China and the Soviet Union reciprocated by recognizing South Korea. North Korea rejected the U.S.’s suggestion, however, because the four-party talks and cross-recognition proposal were perceived to signify the permanent division of the Korean peninsula (Kim, 2001, pp. 91-103). Despite the North’s proposal for a peace treaty, the U.S. policy on the Korean peninsula was a stabilization policy based on maintaining the status quo. To acknowledge the existence of the two Koreas and ease military tensions on the Korean peninsula were the bottom lines of the policy. The issue of easing tensions on the Korean peninsula had broader implications for the U.S. In its own geopolitical interests, the U.S. was focused on preventing the Korean peninsula from becoming a stumbling block in the U.S.’s pursuit of détente with the Soviet Union and China. In this respect, given this linkage to the far more consequential issue of the détente between the superpowers, inter-Korean dialogue was located at the very bottom of the U.S.’s foreign policy priorities. Simultaneously, the United States advocated a ‘Koreanization’ policy based on an assumption that any inter-Korean dialogue had to be a “show of Koreans.”

However, the Koreanization policy was not intended to leave all issues of U.S. interest subject to the sole determination of the Korean people, including the status of the United Nations Commission for the Unification and Rehabilitation of Korea (UNCURK), the United Nations Command (UNC), and the establishment of a peace regime. The U.S. government had promised South Korea that it would carry out all its obligations under the Mutual Defense Treaty between the two countries. Only a month after Dr. Kissinger’s talks with Premier Zhou in Beijing, the State Department was able to confirm to the U.S. embassy in Seoul that there would be no impact on “its assurances thus far made through various policy declarations and joint statements regarding the defense and security of the Republic of Korea.” In addition, the U.S. reaffirmed its intention to support the principles and objectives of the United Nations in Korea and the efforts of the United Nations to achieve the establishment of a unified, independent, and democratic Korea. Similarly, it reaffirmed its adherence to the joint policy declaration, which was signed on July 27, 1953, by the sixteen nations which supported South Korea with troops during the Korean war. Internally, the United States tried to maintain or strengthen the alliance with South Korea while externally blocking the Korean peninsula from emerging as a conflict between the superpowers. In fact, the U.S. intentionally postponed discussions on Korean issues at the U.N. in the name of inter-Korean dialogue from 1971 to 1972 (Hong, 2004, p. 40). U.S. policy toward North Korea was bound to be linked to both the challenges of the inter-Korean dialogue and the advantages stemming from the détente with China. Under these circumstances, there was a mismatch between the peace treaty demanded by North Korea and the imperatives of U.S. policy.

Discussions on relations with North Korea started within the U.S. government in March 1972, when the inter-Korean dialogue got underway and North Korea began to signal its desire to improve relations with the U.S. by inviting American journalists and scholars for visits to Pyongyang. At a press conference on March 7, 1972, Secretary of State William P. Rogers announced that “The U.S. government is aware of the signs that North Korea wants to improve relations with the U.S., and the Nixon administration in general wants to improve relations with all countries, and this could include North Korea” (Hong, 2004, p. 40). Thus, the U.S. Department of State began in-depth discussions on policies toward North Korea in early 1972. The U.S. policy toward North Korea consisted of small issues that suited the status quo, rather than big changes such as the détente North Korea had in mind.

As an initial measure, the policy sanctioned a limited use of North Korea’s official name. It proposed that North Korea’s official name be used only for low-level documents and diplomatic letters to avoid any impression of equivalence with South Korea. A second measure was the inclusion of North Korea on the list of countries no longer subject to travel restrictions for Americans. At that time, there were restrictions printed in U.S. passports that barred travel by Americans to Vietnam, North Korea, and Cuba. While the restrictions remained in place for Cuba and Vietnam, the State Department determined that the restriction on travel to North Korea could be lifted if the situation on the Korean peninsula permitted. The third measure was approval for visits to North Korea by U.S. journalists, but North Korean journalists were still not permitted to enter the U.S. The fourth measure addressed trade sanctions against North Korea. As it did in the case of China, the State Department argued for a gradual relief of trade sanctions with North Korea. The proposals for a removal of travel restrictions and a relief of trade sanctions on North Korea, however, were never implemented. The only change was Secretary of State Rogers’ use of the acronym “DPRK” for the first time during his speech at the 17th SEATO (Southeast Asia Treaty Organization) conference.

In early 1973, the U.S. government moved forward with more in-depth discussions on its policy toward the Korean peninsula in general and North Korea in particular. A study conducted by the Interdepartmental Group for East Asia and the Pacific explored the potential for détente on the Korean peninsula and proposed options for re-orienting U.S. policy in the region. The study listed the minimum criteria for the kind of outcome on the Korean peninsula that would be acceptable to the U.S. These criteria were: a stable inter-Korean relationship at reduced levels of tension; a stable framework for peaceful competition among the major powers; political stability and an opportunity for economic growth in South Korea; adequate military security for South Korea, including access by the U.S. military; protection for U.S. financial and commercial interests in South Korea; and a role for North Korea consistent with stability in the area. Given these criteria, the Interdepartmental Group discussed four options for U.S. policy toward the Korean peninsula. First, South Korea might be allowed to take the lead in pursuit of an inter-Korean accommodation. The U.S. side would only take initiatives that were acceptable to and agreed by South Korea. If the détente in the region were threatened by events in Korea, however, the U.S. government would consider exercising more active influence on Seoul or taking appropriate actions with the major powers.

Second, the U.S. government might retard the pace of inter-Korean accommodation if North Korea were judged to be not interested in pursuing détente, or if China or the Soviet Union were not interested in cooperating in the normalization of relations in the area.

Third, the U.S. government could encourage an inter-Korean accommodation by playing a concerted role on its own initiative, separate from South Korea’s actions. The degree of its active engagement would vary with specific circumstances.

Fourth, assuming an active great power role is essential to the development of relations between the two Koreas, the U.S. government could negotiate with the major powers in the region. The U.S. government would have to be prepared to judge initiatives and responses based on their impact both on great power relationships and on South Korea. In terms of the U.S. military presence in South Korea, the U.S. government reaffirmed its commitment to maintain the deployment of its troops there and to provide continuing military assistance. This military assistance to South Korea would serve to deter North Korea’s aggression and defend against the nuclear capabilities of China, according to an analysis in the 1969 National Security Study Memorandum. In addition, the Interdepartmental Group proposed options for dealing with several other issues including arms control measures, North Korea’s participation in the UN debate, the status of the United Nations Command in South Korea, and the dissolution of UNCURK. On Arms control, it was suggested that a series of steps could be taken if it is determined that arms limitation proposals would facilitate North-South accommodation. On North Korea’s participation in the UN debate, the preferred option was to seek a postponement of the debate since the U.S. would not prevail if the issue were put up for a vote by the UN General Assembly. As for the UNCURK, whether it continued in its present form or was dissolved was judged by the group to be of no great consequence as it was considered non-essential to the U.S. military presence in the ROK. Finally, on the issue of UNCURK, the best option was determined to be for the U.S. to remove it from Korea since preserving its role would be another losing proposition for the U.S. in the UN General Assembly.

China decided to take the path of reform and openness (改革開放) in a guided way during the 3rd Plenary Session of the 11th Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party held in December 1978 (Li, 2011, p. 535). By contrast, North Korea was doubling down on the status quo in this period under the slogan of “all for one and one for all” which alluded to the empowerment of the supreme leader for the sake of the country’s solidarity. To reinforce this paradigm of the state, during the 6th Congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea in October 1980, Kim Jong-il was appointed a member of the Politburo and officially designated as his father’s successor. Thus, in an unparalleled development in the annals of communist states, a hereditary succession structure was established that remains intact today. The two countries obviously had taken very different paths. After the death of Mao Zedong and his premier Zhou Eunlai, the leadership in the CCP changed entirely, and China adopted a market economy (Kim, 1997). Economic development became the nation’s top goal as the new leadership sought to overcome the economic difficulties caused by the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). Simultaneously, in an only partially successful effort to enforce political reform, the government removed the ringleaders of the Cultural Revolution and reestablished a collective leadership system. Overall, these changes were viewed as a great achievement that promoted stability and national development through drastic economic reforms. Shortly thereafter, China began expanding its diplomatic relations by appropriately utilizing its counterparts in accordance with its national interests, whether it was the Soviet Union or the United States, and by pursuing economic cooperation rather than fostering political conflicts.

By contrast, the rise of Kim Jong-il in the Worker’s Party of Korea as Kim Il Sung’s designated heir served to enhance the North Korea’s centrally planned economy. Simultaneously, Pyongyang strengthened the personality cult of Kim Il Sung and implemented various policies aimed at buttressing internal solidarity. In October 1980, Diplomatically, Pyongyang attempted to make good on its intention to improve relations with Japan while actively engaging in friendly diplomacy with countries in Eastern Europe and Africa. Meanwhile, inter-Korean relations worsened due to two terrorist incidents attributed to North Korean agents, the Rangoon bombing incident (1983) and the mid-air explosion of Korean Air Flight 858 (1987). On the other hand, South Korea achieved remarkable economic growth during this period and acquired greater stature by successfully hosting the 1988 Seoul Olympics. In the context of North Korea-China relations, the first sign of a divergence in ‘survival strategies’ was Beijing’s adoption of Western market economy principles on a gradual basis beginning in the late 1970s. When the Soviet Union initiated its “restructuring” (perestroika) reforms in the mid-80s, which also entailed efforts to foster market forces, the foundation of the region’s alliances began to collapse precipitously. As the Soviet Union and China both began to push policies aimed at reforming and opening up their economies, the international environment of the Asia-Pacific region changed drastically. Each country began to establish national development policy goals more compatible with the unfolding post-Cold war era. Under these circumstances, North Korea was at a crossroads: it could join the Soviet Union and China, which were undergoing reform and opening, or insist on preserving “Socialism of Our Style” based on the Juche principle. It chose the latter course.

In the early 1990s, after Germany’s unification and the dismantling of the Eastern bloc, North Korea’s independent path in pursuit of a Korean-style socialist economy increasingly isolated it the former communist countries that were once its trading partners but now were switching to a market economy. The biggest motivation for North Korea’s decision to follow its own path was the impact of the normalization of relations with South Korea ‒ first by the Soviet Union, and then by China ‒ which were perceived by North Korea as a transformative development in the international environment of the Asia-Pacific region.

The bilateral relations between Pyongyang and Beijing transitioned from the previous allied status to normal state relations after China normalized its relations with South Korea. As mentioned above, from the perspective of the North Korean government, the normalization of China-South Korea relations thwarted North Korea’s consistent opposition to the proposal for cross-recognition. North Korea felt at odds with China because of this policy divergence, and even labeled China’s position on it ‘a modern revisionist anti-socialist tactic’. While North Korea-China relations no longer had the character of an alliance, gradually they seemed to be recovering to a certain extent. Still, the alliance between the two countries had degenerated after the South Korea-China normalization. Amid the cooling of political and diplomatic relations between North Korea and China, economic relations also changed from an ideological-oriented to a reciprocal cooperation basis (Kim, 2004, p. 96). After 1992, China began to shift its trade with North Korea from the barter system to the cash payment system (Lee & Kim, 2005, p. 417). This change was another major factor that drove the North Korean economy into a corner.

In late April 1994, North Korea took the additional step of demanding the withdrawal of the Chinese delegation from the Panmunjom Military Armistice Commission and unilaterally establishing the “North Korean People’s Army Panmunjom Representative.” In the end, the Chinese government accepted North Korea’s demand while making its position clear that the armistice agreement was still valid until a new peace regime was established in the Asia-Pacific region. This was an example of North Korea’s determination to defend its regime in accordance with Kim Il Sung’s exhortation: “Let us continue to shine the dignity and honor of the people with a strong spirit of self-reliance.” After confirming China’s willingness to establish diplomatic ties, South Korea officially conveyed its consent and formed a task force on April 24, 1992. In line with the Blue House’s policy, Kim Chong-hwi, senior presidential secretary for foreign affairs and national security, was appointed the chief delegate and Kwon Byung-hyun, ambassador to China, was designated as his deputy (Kwon, 2007). The first round of preliminary talks was held in Beijing from May 14 to 15. The agenda included South Korea’s severing of diplomatic relations with Taiwan, the transfer of Taiwan’s diplomatic property in South Korea including the embassy building, a community association building, and the Chinese school building to China, and a disavowal of diplomatic relations with Taiwan in the future (Ibid). China’s interest was to maintain the ‘One China’ principle, and in this regard, it was important to confirm South Korea’s position on the ‘Taiwan issue’. China considered the first round of preliminary talks a kind of mutual meeting, but the diplomatic negotiations gained momentum as South Korea agreed to maintain the One China principle. Relations with Taiwan became problematic subsequently as South Korea remained committed to this principle (Kim 2013, 186).

The second round of preliminary talks was held on June 2-3 at Diaoyutai No. 11 in Beijing. The Korean delegation for this round replaced the previous negotiating team. The two governments were determined to achieve their objective and their respective teams shared a consensus on major issues. This made it possible to iron out their differences. For example, South Korea proposed the language in the U.N. Charter (respect for sovereignty, non-aggression of territory, equality of reciprocity) as the principle guiding their diplomatic relations, and China countered with a request that principle be based instead on the “five principles of peaceful coexistence” formulation of its government (Lee 2019, 135). South Korea agreed to accept China’s proposal because there was no reason to oppose peaceful coexistence. At South Korea’s request, the third round of preliminary talks was held at the Walker Hill Hotel’s VIP mansion in Seoul from June 21-22. After this meeting, the chief negotiators for both sides agreed to sign a joint statement and a memorandum of understanding in Beijing in mid-July, followed by a formal signing before the ASEAN expanded foreign ministers’ meeting in late July. China later proposed that talks be held in late July in Beijing in which the heads of state of the two countries would make their own announcements within ten days of the official signing. This reflected China’s political judgment that having the signature of its foreign minister, rather than the head of state, on the joint statement could somewhat ease North Korea’s opposition.

Subsequently, on July 29, a South Korean delegation held talks with Xu Dunxin, China’s vice foreign minister, in Diaoyutai No. 12 and decided to announce August 24 as the date for the signing of the formal agreement on the establishment of diplomatic relations. The day before the signing of this agreement, the foreign ministers of both countries held a meeting in Beijing to discuss inter-Korean relations, the North Korean nuclear issue, President Roh Tae-woo’s visit to China, the signing of a government-affiliated agreement, and the establishment of an embassy and consulate general. At 9 a.m. on August 24 (10 a.m. Korean time), the two countries declared the normalization of diplomatic relations and the news was relayed live to the world.

② North Korea’s Response to the Normalization

China officially notified North Korea on July 15, 1992, of its intention to establish diplomatic relations with South Korea (Kim 2013, 189). After arriving in Pyongyang and meeting with Foreign Minister Kim Yong-nam, Chen Chi-chun and his delegation boarded a helicopter for a 40-minute flight to meet Kim Il Sung at his villa. Chen Chi-chun delivered a message from Jiang Zemin to Kim Il Sung that read: “The period of diplomatic relations between South Korea and China has matured. We ask for North Korea’s understanding and support.” Kim Il Sung responded with visible disappointment and ended the meeting with the Chinese delegation by saying: “If your government has made up its mind to do so, we will overcome any difficulties it causes us.” However, later, Kim Il Sung said: “Since China has already established diplomatic ties with our enemy, South Korea, we should also establish diplomatic relations with Taiwan, China’s enemy” (Lee 2019, 142). As a further slight, North Korea voted for Sydney in the1993 competition between China and Australia to host the 2000 Summer Olympics. China failed to win its bid to host the Olympics. The Chinese government, which had made an all-out effort to host the Olympics, lost the bid by two votes North Korea’s vote was one of them. Furthermore, just before China established diplomatic relations with South Korea, North Korea published a lengthy editorial entitled: “Let us continue to shine the dignity and honor of the people with a strong self-reliance spirit.”15 Then, a day after the establishment of relations was announced, a column appeared in Rodong Shinmun emphasizing that “We must faithfully implement the inter-Korean basic agreements to improve our relationship with the United States.”16 Although North Korea did not officially criticize China at the time for establishing diplomatic relations with South Korea, a change in the perception of China slowly began to emerge from that point. The distinctive features of North Korea’s stance toward China reveal differences between the revolutionary generation, who fought for the socialist revolution, and the generation that led the reform and opening up for economic development. Criticism of China in North Korea has been spearheaded by the latter as shown in the following:

Opportunists and betrayers of socialism disparaged the working-class leaders, blasphemed the sacred revolutionary struggle and outstanding achievements of the generation of revolutionaries, demolished socialism, and returned to capitalism. This is the vilest counter-revolutionary crime of betraying the revolution by submitting to imperialist pressure and the most immoral act of betraying even rudimentary human morality.17

North Korea cast these aspersions on the younger leaders in China who supported the reform and opening measures as their efforts were perceived to be undermining the struggles and achievements of China’s senior leaders who had led the socialist revolution. The vitriol also reflected North Korea’s heightened threat perception of the U.S. due to the loss of both of its former patrons ‒ first the Soviet Union and now China ‒ just as the Cold War was coming to an end. In terms of the timing, Pyongyang considered China’s establishment of diplomatic relations with South Korea just as the U.S. was becoming the world’s sole superpower as a particularly egregious act of betrayal. Moreover, following its establishment of diplomatic ties with South Korea, China began to demand that its trade with North Korea be conducted in accordance with the rules of a capitalist market economy.

NORTH KOREA’S DIPLOMACY TOWARD THE U.S.

THE RAPPROCHEMENT APPROACH IN THE EARLY 1970S

The Chinese government’s unsuccessful efforts to advance North Korea’s eight-point program for the peaceful unification of Korea during its détente negotiations with the United States had convinced Pyongyang of the need for an independent démarche toward the U.S. Pyongyang’s eight-point program was raised by Zhou Enlai during his second meeting with Henry Kissinger in October of 1971. During their discussions, however, only two of the issues raised by North Korea were discussed: the withdrawal of the U.S. military forces from South Korea; and the disbanding of the UNCURK. During the conversations between Nixon and Zhou in February of 1972, however, only the second issue of the disbanding of the UNCURK was discussed. The Shanghai Communiqué summarizing the outcome of the U.S.-China détente negotiations duly included North Korea’s position on the UNCURK in a perfunctory way but made no mention of the withdrawal of U.S. troops. China did not overtly push Washington to accept North Korea’s eight-point program during the détente negotiations. In addition, China concurred with the U.S. decision to defer the discussion of the UNCURK until the next UN annual meeting.

Pyongyang decided to launch a ‘people’s diplomacy’ approach toward the U.S. because of its dissatisfaction with Beijing’s failure during the détente negotiations with Washington to be a strong advocate for Pyongyang’s interests. This approach involved extending invitations to Americans ‒ including Korean Americans ‒ to visit Pyongyang. The invitees included scholars, politicians, and journalists. The North Korean leaders were signaling their interest in initiating civilian exchanges between the two countries by welcoming, for the first time, visits to North Korea by U.S. citizens. The U.S. government effectively reciprocated by permitting U.S. citizens to visit North Korea, albeit within a limited scope. North Korea was attempting through these civilian exchanges to build greater support within the United States for its effort to open an official channel with the U.S. government. The leaders in Pyongyang wanted to elicit the help of Americans who shared their stance on anti-imperialism to make the American public aware of their government’s misguided policy toward North Korea. As Kim Il Sung put it: “We hate the U.S. government’s imperialist policy, but we want the American people to be our good friends.”18 This reflected the implementation of a policy that made a distinction between the U.S. government and the American people (Lee, 1996, p. 554). With this orientation, of course, the North Korean government’s invitations primarily went to American scholars and delegations associated with anti-imperialist organizations in the early 1970s.

Korean Americans and Journalists

The North Korean government believed Korean Americans could play a crucial role as mediators in its efforts to normalize relations with Washington by facilitating civilian exchanges between North Korea and the United States. Kim Il Sung personally invited Korean American scholars to Pyongyang to foster solidarity with Korean immigrants in the U.S. and to gain their support for the unification of the Korean peninsula and the withdrawal of the U.S. military forces in South Korea. In October 1970, during his conversation with a delegation of the Communist Party USA, Kim Il Sung stressed the role that he envisioned Korean Americans playing as supporters of the unification policy of North Korea:

It is said that more than 800,000 Koreans are residing in the United States. If they are given full information about our Party’s policy for national reunification, they will extend active support for our country’s reunification. We are not now working with our compatriots in the United States as efficiently with those in Japan. We hope that the Communist Party of the United States of America will help us by exerting a positive influence on the Koreans residing in America, so that they will support our cause and commit themselves to the struggle for national reunification.19

With the goal of expanding its influence in the United States, North Korea contacted a representative of the American Korean Friendship Information Center (AKFIC) in New York. The objective was to gain the support of the American people for its unification policy, including the end of the Korean War through the conclusion of a peace agreement with the United States (Kim, 2017, p.152). Additionally, North Korea also organized the Committee for Solidarity with People of South Korea in California and the United Front for Democracy of North Korea in New York as Korean American organizations, and a research group on Kim Il Sung’s ideology. In the same vein, North Korea invited two leading American journalists to visit Pyongyang, one from the New York Times and one from the Washington Post in May and June of 1972, respectively. In an interview with Selig Harrison from the Washington Post on June 21, 1972, Kim Il Sung emphasized the importance of a peace agreement:

When a peace agreement is concluded, U.S. troops must get out of south Korea. After its conclusion, the danger of war will be removed from our country, and, consequently, there will be no more excuse for them to remain in south Korea. We maintain that after the withdrawal of U.S. troops from south Korea the armed forces of the north and south should be reduced to 100,000 or less on either side. When this is done as a result of the conclusion of the peace agreement, our country’s peaceful reunification will be more firmly guaranteed.20

It was an unusual move for North Korea, which at the time was trying to resolve the issue of Korean unification through China, to invite a Washington Post reporter to Pyongyang for an interview with Kim Il Sung. It is even more striking that Kim took a conciliatory stance toward the U.S. in the interview while still calling for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from South Korea. There was a new perception at the time that the U.S. government ‒ due to the Nixon Doctrine-induced changes in the international environment ‒ might accept North Korea’s request if it were couched in a conciliatory tone. Kim Il Sung had begun to recognize the United States, which previously he had regarded only as a hostile country, as a country that might be willing to sign a peace treaty, to negotiate a reduction of its military forces in South Korea, and to foster Korean reunification. Still, he made a distinction between American imperialists ‒ referring to those responsible for making U.S. foreign policy, in particular a small group of people ‒ and Americans in general whom he believed were open to an offer of friendship with North Korea. He elaborated on this point during the interview with Sig Harrison:

We Korean people separate the American people from the U.S. imperialists. The Korean people are still promoting friendship with the American people, and they will do so in the future. You asked about a visit by our journalists to the United States. We are not against this. If the situation is right, we shall not object to sending our journalists to the United States and to their meeting its officials. You asked whether our country would establish trade and economic relations with the United States if U.S. troops withdraw from south Korea and tension is removed from the Korean peninsula. In that event, we shall not object to establishing trade and economic relations with the United States; we would welcome this. …We will show good will to anybody who does the same. But we cannot show kindness to those who are going to invade us, can we?21

Letters to the U.S. Congress

The AKFIC was established by members of the Communist Party in the United States as well as university professors supportive of the DPRK position in 1971. They cooperated with the North Korean government to support the withdrawal of the U.S. troops from South Korea and the Unification of the Korean Peninsula under Kim Il Sung’s regime.22 The organization repeatedly alerted the American public of the potential that another war would erupt in East Asia if the U.S. government did not end its military and financial support for the South Korean government (Gauthier 2015, 152). The AKFIC was part of North Korea’s rapprochement approaches in the 1970s. In 1972, besides Kim Il Sung’s unprecedented interviews with Harrison Salisbury and Selig Harrison, from 1973-1976, the North Korean government purchased full-page advertisements in the New York Times to convey the message that the removal of the U.S. troops from Korea could rapidly improve U.S.-DPRK relations (Gauthier, 153). At the center of this public relations effort, as supporters of the anti-war movement in the U.S., members of the AKFIC shared a common purpose with Pyongyang and supported its opposition to the continued presence of the U.S. troops in South Korea. As an anti-imperialist organization, the AKFIC opposed the U.S. government’s foreign policy in East Asia. Its declared mission was to educate the American public about North Korea by publishing a periodic journal named Korea Focus and hosting public forums and college lectures.

Members of the AKFIC also helped the North Korean government lobby the U.S. House of Representatives on the issue of Korean reunification. In this connection, on April 6, 1973, North Korea’s Supreme People’s Assembly sent an unprecedented letter to the U.S. Congress that called for U.S.-North Korea negotiations and an end to the presence of foreign troops on the Korean peninsula.23 A few members of the U.S. Congress responded to the letter from Pyongyang. Mike Mansfield, Senate Majority Leader, commented that “33,000 Americans never returned from the hills and valleys of Korea, where many died in an unnecessary conflict with vast Chinese armies north of the 38th Parallel. The 40,000-plus U.S. troops in Korea are largely an irrelevant luxury 20 years after the end of the Korean War.”24 In a similar vein, William Fulbright, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations, argued that South Korea was able to keep “a modern army of 650,000 men with 4% of its national products.” This suggested that U.S. military aid might not be necessary to defend against North Korea’s aggression.25 He emphasized that U.S. aid to recipient countries was not given for the purpose of reducing tensions and territorial aggression. Frank Church, a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, argued for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Asia, including Korea and the airbases in Thailand.26

However, these responses did not represent the majority view in the legislative branch of the United States. Officially, the U.S. Congress declined to respond to the letter from North Korea. Frustrated with the lack of a response, the AKFIC launched a letter-writing campaign demanding that the U.S. Congress take action to stop the White House’s military and economic support for South Korea. In its campaign, AKFIC claimed that “U.S. troops armed with destructive atomic weapons remain entrenched in South Korea, violating the will and sovereignty of the Korean people.”27 After failing to receive a response from the U.S. Congress to its first letter, Pyongyang sent another letter on March 25, 1974. This second letter conveyed four propositions:

1. A non-aggression agreement with a provision that there be no United States interference in the internal affairs of the Korean people.

2. A discontinuance of armament escalation and the introduction of new weapons, combat equipment, and war supplies into the Korean peninsula on both sides.

3. Withdrawal of all foreign troops from South Korea as soon as possible.

4. A guarantee that Korea will not become a military or operational base for any country.28

Despite the AKFIC’s efforts at lobbying the U.S. Congress to react and negotiate with North Korea on its demands, neither the White House nor the U.S. Congress decided to reach out to the North Korean government. The U.S. anti-war movement and the American public had little interest in the issue of American imperialism in Korea, the withdrawal of the U.S. troops, and Korea’s reunification. The DPRK’s efforts to gain American public support through the AKFIC failed. The organization faced severe financial problems and had to close its doors permanently in 1976. Prior to the end of the AKFIC program, at the third meeting of the Fifth Supreme People’s Assembly on March 25, 1974, North Korea resolved to negotiate directly with the United States to ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula and promote peace. The proposal was to replace the armistice agreement with a peace treaty. The proposal included: a non-aggression pact; non-interference in domestic affairs; suspension of the military buildup and arms race; suspension of the introduction of military materials into Korea; prohibition on the continuing operation of the United Nations Forces Command; and the withdrawal of foreign forces in Korea.

In response to the North’s proposal for a peace treaty, the U.S. suggested direct talks between the two Koreas and declared its willingness to recognize North Korea and develop diplomatic relations if China and the Soviet Union reciprocated by recognizing South Korea. North Korea rejected the U.S.’s suggestion, however, because the four-party talks and cross-recognition proposal were perceived to signify the permanent division of the Korean peninsula (Kim, 2001, pp. 91-103). Despite the North’s proposal for a peace treaty, the U.S. policy on the Korean peninsula was a stabilization policy based on maintaining the status quo. To acknowledge the existence of the two Koreas and ease military tensions on the Korean peninsula were the bottom lines of the policy. The issue of easing tensions on the Korean peninsula had broader implications for the U.S. In its own geopolitical interests, the U.S. was focused on preventing the Korean peninsula from becoming a stumbling block in the U.S.’s pursuit of détente with the Soviet Union and China. In this respect, given this linkage to the far more consequential issue of the détente between the superpowers, inter-Korean dialogue was located at the very bottom of the U.S.’s foreign policy priorities. Simultaneously, the United States advocated a ‘Koreanization’ policy based on an assumption that any inter-Korean dialogue had to be a “show of Koreans.”

However, the Koreanization policy was not intended to leave all issues of U.S. interest subject to the sole determination of the Korean people, including the status of the United Nations Commission for the Unification and Rehabilitation of Korea (UNCURK), the United Nations Command (UNC), and the establishment of a peace regime. The U.S. government had promised South Korea that it would carry out all its obligations under the Mutual Defense Treaty between the two countries. Only a month after Dr. Kissinger’s talks with Premier Zhou in Beijing, the State Department was able to confirm to the U.S. embassy in Seoul that there would be no impact on “its assurances thus far made through various policy declarations and joint statements regarding the defense and security of the Republic of Korea.” In addition, the U.S. reaffirmed its intention to support the principles and objectives of the United Nations in Korea and the efforts of the United Nations to achieve the establishment of a unified, independent, and democratic Korea. Similarly, it reaffirmed its adherence to the joint policy declaration, which was signed on July 27, 1953, by the sixteen nations which supported South Korea with troops during the Korean war. Internally, the United States tried to maintain or strengthen the alliance with South Korea while externally blocking the Korean peninsula from emerging as a conflict between the superpowers. In fact, the U.S. intentionally postponed discussions on Korean issues at the U.N. in the name of inter-Korean dialogue from 1971 to 1972. U.S. policy toward North Korea was bound to be linked to both the challenges of the inter-Korean dialogue and the advantages stemming from the détente with China. Under these circumstances, there was a mismatch between the peace treaty demanded by North Korea and the imperatives of U.S. policy.

Discussions on relations with North Korea started within the U.S. government in March 1972, when the inter-Korean dialogue got underway and North Korea began to signal its desire to improve relations with the U.S. by inviting American journalists and scholars for visits to Pyongyang. At a press conference on March 7, 1972, Secretary of State William P. Rogers announced that “The U.S. government is aware of the signs that North Korea wants to improve relations with the U.S., and the Nixon administration in general wants to improve relations with all countries, and this could include North Korea” (Hong, 2004, p. 40). Thus, the U.S. Department of State began in-depth discussions on policies toward North Korea in early 1972. The U.S. policy toward North Korea consisted of small issues that suited the status quo, rather than big changes such as the détente North Korea had in mind. As an initial measure, the policy sanctioned a limited use of North Korea’s official name. It proposed that North Korea’s official name be used only for low-level documents and diplomatic letters to avoid any impression of equivalence with South Korea. A second measure was the inclusion of North Korea on the list of countries no longer subject to travel restrictions for Americans. At that time, there were restrictions printed in U.S. passports that barred travel by Americans to Vietnam, North Korea, and Cuba. While the restrictions remained in place for Cuba and Vietnam, the State Department determined that the restriction on travel to North Korea could be lifted if the situation on the Korean peninsula permitted. The third measure was approval for visits to North Korea by U.S. journalists, but North Korean journalists were still not permitted to enter the U.S. The fourth measure addressed trade sanctions against North Korea.

As it did in the case of China, the State Department argued for a gradual relief of trade sanctions with North Korea. The proposals for a removal of travel restrictions and a relief of trade sanctions on North Korea, however, were never implemented. The only change was Secretary of State Rogers’ use of the acronym “DPRK” for the first time during his speech at the 17th SEATO (Southeast Asia Treaty Organization) conference. In early 1973, the U.S. government moved forward with more in-depth discussions on its policy toward the Korean peninsula in general and North Korea in particular. A study conducted by the Interdepartmental Group for East Asia and the Pacific explored the potential for détente on the Korean peninsula and proposed options for re-orienting U.S. policy in the region. The study listed the minimum criteria for the kind of outcome on the Korean peninsula that would be acceptable to the U.S. These criteria were: a stable inter-Korean relationship at reduced levels of tension; a stable framework for peaceful competition among the major powers; political stability and an opportunity for economic growth in South Korea; adequate military security for South Korea, including access by the U.S. military; protection for U.S. financial and commercial interests in South Korea; and a role for North Korea consistent with stability in the area.

Given these criteria, the Interdepartmental Group discussed four options for U.S. policy toward the Korean peninsula. First, South Korea might be allowed to take the lead in pursuit of an inter-Korean accommodation. The U.S. side would only take initiatives that were acceptable to and agreed by South Korea. If the détente in the region were threatened by events in Korea, however, the U.S. government would consider exercising more active influence on Seoul or taking appropriate actions with the major powers. Second, the U.S. government might retard the pace of inter-Korean accommodation if North Korea were judged to be not interested in pursuing détente, or if China or the Soviet Union were not interested in cooperating in the normalization of relations in the area. Third, the U.S. government could encourage an inter-Korean accommodation by playing a concerted role on its own initiative, separate from South Korea’s actions. The degree of its active engagement would vary with specific circumstances. Fourth, assuming an active great power role is essential to the development of relations between the two Koreas, the U.S. government could negotiate with the major powers in the region. The U.S. government would have to be prepared to judge initiatives and responses based on their impact both on great power relationships and on South Korea. In terms of the U.S. military presence in South Korea, the U.S. government reaffirmed its commitment to maintain the deployment of its troops there and to provide continuing military assistance. This military assistance to South Korea would serve to deter North Korea’s aggression and defend against the nuclear capabilities of China, according to an analysis in the 1969 National Security Study Memorandum. In addition, the Interdepartmental Group proposed options for dealing with several other issues including arms control measures, North Korea’s participation in the UN debate, the status of the United Nations Command in South Korea, and the dissolution of UNCURK. On Arms control, it was suggested that a series of steps could be taken if it is determined that arms limitation proposals would facilitate North-South accommodation. On North Korea’s participation in the UN debate, the preferred option was to seek a postponement of the debate since the U.S. would not prevail if the issue were put up for a vote by the UN General Assembly. As for the UNCURK, whether it continued in its present form or was dissolved was judged by the group to be of no great consequence as it was considered non-essential to the U.S. military presence in the ROK. Finally, on the issue of UNCURK, the best option was determined to be for the U.S. to remove it from Korea since preserving its role would be another losing proposition for the U.S. in the UN General Assembly.

THE CONFRONTATIONAL APPROACH IN THE EARLY 1990S

After having these experiences of abandonment by its allies and the potential threats posed by the United States-Japan-South Korea alliance in a unipolar system, North Korea developed a ‘siege mentality’ which consisted of a negative emotional valence, fear of an adversary’s threat, and distrust of the international community. This siege mentality became deeply associated with the development of North Korea’s nuclear program as a deterrent against external threats and to draw the U.S.’s attention to the problem. While it is commonly assumed that North Korea’s nuclear program had an offensive, rather than a defensive, purpose from its inception, it is intriguing to note Kim Il Sung’s fulsome endorsement of the “anti-nuclear peace movement” in the May 24, 1990 address cited above:

The Government of the Republic will work hard to frustrate the imperialist policy of aggression and war to make the Korean peninsula a nuclear-free, peace zone [emphasis added] and will give strong support and encouragement to the anti-war, anti-nuclear peace movement of the people in many lands.29

The fear of external threats leads countries to seek risk-acceptance policies ‒ either offensive or defensive ‒ to make up for losses in their situation. When a country cannot fight against external threats on its own, it distrusts itself and always feels exposed to threats from other countries. Countries with a sense of siege mentality build independent defense capabilities that do not rely on outside support and strive to develop nuclear weapons despite international opposition and sanctions (Lee 2017, 179). The siege mentality is also a belief system of members of groups within a society who believe that the outside world has a negative intent to act against them. It is defined as “the perception of group members who believe that external groups have the intention to do bad things or do harm to their group” (Boo 2017, 93). The proponents of this view stress that the siege mentality should be considered a key belief system involving the conviction that “no-one will help us in time of need” (Bar-Tal & Dikla 1992, 49). To overcome the siege mentality, a country must promote the solidarity of its people and the strengthening of its military power.

The Emergence of the Confrontational Approach

South Korea, the United States, and Japan jointly declared that North Korea was hampering the inspections to buy time for the development of its illicit nuclear program. The three countries did not take North Korea’s security concerns related to the strategic nuclear weapons of the U.S. Forces in South Korea into consideration. They had been a source of fear for decades, but neither the U.S. nor South Korea showed any concern for how sensitive the issue was in North Korea. In addition, in March, the U.S. had imposed sanctions on two North Korean corporations for missile proliferation activities. As a further complication, while the dispute over inspection was raging, the U.S. and announced the decision to hold the Team Spirit joint military exercises in March 1993. This insensitive attitude toward North Korea’s security concerns on the part of the U.S. and South Korea was both the cause and justification for the events that triggered the 1993 crisis (Kim, 1995). The U.S. had been skeptical about the potential for improving U.S.-North Korea relations since at least early 1992 due to a perception of North Korea as being uncooperative on nuclear-related issues. In September 1992, North Korea’s envoy Kim Yong Sun proposed a second bilateral dialogue in a letter addressed to Arnold Kanter. Kim claimed that the simultaneous inspection issue was not making progress, despite North Korea’s maximum efforts to fulfill their commitment to cooperate with the IAEA due to South Korea’s recalcitrance. Kanter characterized this proposal as “interesting” but predictably rejected talks “absent progress on North-South inspections and cooperation with the IAEA” (Wit, Poneman, and Gallucci 2004, 14).

The situation took a turn for the worse from North Korea’s perspective on October 8, 1992. During the annual Security Consultative Meeting, U.S. Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney confirmed the intention to go ahead with the Team Spirit 1993 joint military exercise at the urging of South Korea. The withdrawal of tactical nuclear weapons from the U.S. Forces Korea military installations and the suspension of the Team Spirit in 1992 were the most important and visible security and political achievements of North Korea’s nuclear diplomacy efforts from 1989 to 1991. The reinstatement of the exercises was a major blow from North Korea’s perspective. Even a year later, in October 1993, when the Team Spirit exercise came up during a conversation with U.S. Congressman Gary Ackerman, Kim Il Sung suddenly raised his voice and waved his hand in anger (Oberdorfer 2013, 273). North Korea responded immediately to the announcement of the resumption of the Team Spirit exercise. On October 13, 1992, North Korea’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland warned that “all inter-Korean dialogue will break down” if the drill resumes. In addition, at the Joint Committee on Inter-Korean Economic Cooperation and Exchange held on October 22, Kim Jung-woo, chairman of the Foreign Economic Committee, issued a statement that inter-Korean dialogue cannot proceed under the conditions of a “large-scale nuclear war exercise to attack us preemptively.” At the Joint Inter-Korean Nuclear Control Committee held on the same day, the North Korean delegation threatened that the “inter-Korean basic agreements” could be “a piece of paper” if the decision to resume the training was not withdrawn by the end of November. On October 27, North Korea held a joint meeting of government parties and adopted a decision to freeze all inter-Korean talks if Team Spirit 1993 was carried out. Beginning in November, North Korea froze all four inter-Korean joint committee meetings and suspended the ninth high-level talks scheduled for December. On March 8, as the Team Spirit exercise was about to get underway, Kim Jong-il declared a state of emergency declaring that “a war could break out at any moment.” In his capacity as the supreme commander of the North Korean People’s Army, Kim ordered the military and the people ‒ the entire nation ‒ to assume a quasi-state-of-war posture. This was the first time since 1983 that North Korea had made such a declaration. Then, on March 12, North Korea shocked the world with the following official declaration of its withdrawal from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT):30

The U.S. and South Korean authorities have resumed the Team Spirit joint military exercise, which is a nuclear war exercise directed against our Republic. At the same time, some U.S. entities followed up on the International Atomic Energy Agency’s “Resolution” to try to enforce “special inspections” on our military installations that have nothing to do with nuclear activities. This is an infringement of our Republic’s independence, interference in our internal affairs, and a hostile attempt to crush our socialist system. Under these abnormal circumstances, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea declares that it inevitably must withdraw from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) as a measure to protect our highest interests.31

The major reason for North Korea’s withdrawal from the NPT was its strategic calculation that this drastic measure would contribute toward the elimination of the nuclear threat facing the country. The gamble was that the withdrawal would force the U.S. to engage in direct negotiations that ultimately might result in a breakthrough in its so far unsuccessful efforts to normalize relations with the U.S. North Korea had laid the foundation for pursuing this strategic goal by playing the nuclear card for a period of three years beginning from 1989. The resumption of Team Spirit, however, was interpreted as evidence that the United States was not willing to abide by the progress being made toward improved relations during 1992.

The June Crisis in 1994

Negotiations between North Korea and the IAEA, which took place throughout January 1994, were stalled again as the debate over limited and full inspections of the 5MWe reactor and the reprocessing facilities continued unabated as usual. The U.S. believed that the continuity of safeguards would be seriously damaged if IAEA inspections were not conducted by the end of 1993. This situation led to a rapid rise in a hardline stance in the U.S. toward North Korea. On February 3, Hans Blix added to the state of alarm by issuing a warning that the IAEA might have to announce within a week that the continuity of safeguards has been lost.32 On February 6, the U.S. media reported on a U.S. plan to wage war on the Korean peninsula. North Korea had issued its own warning on January 31: “If the U.S. finally reverses its promise, we will not be bound by our promise.” It added: “If the U.S. does not want to hold U.S.-North Korea talks, we have no intention of holding the talks either.”33Several crises had arisen at the working-level as well involving both the IAEA inspections and the exchange of special envoys between the two Koreas. The IAEA inspectors discovered a damaged seal during an inspection of the reprocessing facility and demanded permission to conduct a sampling, but the demand was rejected. As a result, the IAEA inspectors were withdrawn from North Korea on March 14.

On March 21, 1994, addressing a meeting of the IAEA Board of Governors, Director General Hans Blix made a hair-splitting declaration that “overall, the continuity of safeguards in North Korea had not been broken. But the agency could not conclude whether nuclear material had been diverted from Yongbyon since it had been prevented from re-establishing continuity of safeguards at the reprocessing plant.” This declaration set off a heated debate during which China cautioned against creating an atmosphere filled with “the smell of gunpowder” in an unsuccessful effort accentuate the positive. After a further flurry of behind-the-scenes diplomacy, during which only the Libyan representative came to North Korea’s defense, the IAEA Board adopted a resolution declaring North Korea in further noncompliance with its safeguards obligations and referring the issue to the UN Security Council (Wit et alia., 154). On April 19, 1994, North Korea pulled out a new card to trigger the war crisis further. Yun Ho-jin, a North Korean envoy to the international agencies headquartered in Vienna, sent a letter to the IAEA asking if he could pay a visit. Explaining the purpose of the visit, the letter indicated that North Korea intended to start replacing the fuel rods in its 5MWe reactor. This immediately set off alarm bells. If the 8,000 expended fuel rods mounted in the 5MWe reactor were reprocessed after their replacement, the extracted plutonium potentially would be sufficient to manufacture from three to five nuclear weapons. In that case, combining this new plutonium with its presumed store of existing plutonium, North Korea might have the material needed to manufacture from four to seven nuclear weapons.

The war drums grew louder in June. The Pentagon began preparing a series of options that included increasing the number of U.S. forces in South Korea up to 50,000 and deploying air and naval supporting forces. The planning included basing cruise missiles and F-117 stealth fighters in South Korea that could be used to strike the nuclear facilities at Yongbyon (McIntyre, 1999). Defense Secretary William J. Perry and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. John Shalikashvili briefed President Clinton on the grave consequences if war broke out. The Pentagon estimated it would result in 52,000 U.S. military and 490,000 South Korean military casualties just in the first ninety days. The number of North Korean military casualties also would be enormous as would be the number of civilian casualties on both sides of the DMZ. The financial outlay was estimated to be in the range of \$61 billion, and this burden would fall primarily on U.S. shoulders. Unsurprisingly then, the Clinton administration began veering back toward the search for a diplomatic way out. Still, war remained a real possibility, because as Clinton said to reporters: “I just don’t think we can walk away from this” (Oberdorfer and Carlin 2014, 247). The U.S. embassy in Seoul even began planning for the evacuation of American citizens on an urgent basis (McIntyre, 1999). In a meeting with the former South Korean president, Kim Dae Jung, on December 7, 1998, William J. Perry ‒ who was the U.S. secretary of defense in 1994 ‒ confirmed that the U.S. truly was planning actively for war at the time, one it undoubtedly would have won, although the casualties would have been enormous (U.S. Department of State, 2016). On the economic front, in a concluding speech for the 21st Plenary Session of the 6th Central Committee of the Worker’s Party of Korea on December 8, 1993, Kim Il Sung announced the adoption of a revolutionary economic strategy:

We must boldly change the direction of foreign trade toward the countries in Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, and other newly emergent countries, the third-world nations. …We must restructure the economy in keeping with the changed situation and the requirement for the development of the revolution and work for several years in the direction of giving the highest priority to the development of agriculture, light industry, and foreign trade in economic construction.34

Through its confrontational approach to the U.S., North Korea obtained an official guarantee from the U.S. ‒ in writing! ‒ of its promise of the non-use of nuclear weapons on the Korean peninsula. In addition, it obtained a promise to work toward the normalization of U.S.-North Korea relations. These were not only important achievements from the security perspective, but they meant as well that North Korea had taken its first major step toward overcoming the international isolation that was hampering its efforts to revitalize its economy. The core of the economic crisis was the challenge of resolving the energy shortage. North Korea was promised two 1,000 MWe modern light-water reactors by 2003 in return for the suspension and future dismantlement of the 5 MWe reactor, and the halting of the construction work on the 50 MWe and 200 MWe reactors. The projected output of these reactors was 16 billion kWh of electricity per year.

CONCLUSION

This research project has challenged the view that North Korea’s decision to pursue the development of nuclear weapons and missiles ‒ which it acknowledged for the first time in 2005 ‒ constituted a fundamental shift in the objectives of its foreign policy toward the United States. Instead, it argues that North Korea has preserved the basic parameters of the rapprochement policy that Kim Il Sung first announced in the early 1970s in response to the U.S.-China détente. Its findings have demonstrated that the policy reorientation toward the United States ‒ from rapprochement in the 1970s to provocation in the 1990s ‒ was a change in the means, not the ends, of the policy. In other words, it was a tactical rather than a strategic change in North Korea’s foreign policy. This change was in response to the U.S.’s indifference to North Korea’s efforts to obtain its assistance in overcoming the acute security anxieties that beset it, beginning in the late 1980s, due to the geopolitical/geoeconomic transformations associated with the end of the Cold War. The linkages between these two factors ‒ the U.S.’s indifference to North Korea’s plight in the face of these exogenous factors, and the tactical shift to what effectively was an asymmetrical deterrence posture in North Korea’s foreign policy toward the United States ‒ have not been analyzed systematically by the leading experts in the field of North Korea studies. Nor have the implications of the underlying causes of this change in North Korea’s foreign policy received adequate attention from the policymakers of successive U.S. administrations over the last thirty years. As a result, a nearly invincible conviction has emerged in recent decades, and increasingly is being deepened among foreign policy analysts, that diplomacy with North Korea is a feckless endeavor inevitably doomed to failure (Tuang 2021).

This research also suggests that an analysis of this neglected policy dimension can be parlayed into a model, or diplomatic tool kit, for constructing an effective U.S. North Korea policy. The main components of this model readily emerge from an empathetic investigation of North Korea’s foreign policy decision-making in recent decades. Specifically, the investigation shows how North Korea generally has responded pragmatically to the changing international environment of the Northeast Asian region. Its foreign policy behavior routinely has been adapted to the situational context. While the policy matrix was modified significantly when the confrontational approach began to displace the rapprochement approach in the 1990s, the findings of this research project confirm that North Korea’s core foreign policy objectives over this period remained basically unchanged since the early 1970s. When the nuclear program-related developments of the early 1990s are taken out of context and made the critical starting point for analysis, however, the continuity in the core objectives of North Korea’s foreign policy is bound to be misconstrued, if not entirely overlooked. By oscillating between cooperation and confrontation in the modality of its reciprocity, North Korea finally was able to achieve its long-term objective of holding a series of working level meetings with U.S. counterparts beginning in the late 1980s and direct, high-level talks on three occasions in the early 1990s. North Korea used these opportunities both to pursue its longstanding core policy objectives and to develop some new policy objectives (e.g., the provision of LWRs). Eventually, North Korea’s diplomatic brinksmanship during this period resulted in the conclusion of a nuclear deal with the United States ‒ known as the Agreed Framework ‒ to freeze the operations and ongoing construction of nuclear reactors that the U.S. suspected were part of a covert nuclear weapons program. In exchange, the United States agreed to take the leading role in a multilateral, international project to replace North Korea’s graphite-moderated reactors with two proliferation-resistant light-water reactors. This historic breakthrough ultimately turned into a pyrrhic victory for North Korea when the Agreed Framework finally collapsed in late 2002 due to the unrelenting political opposition to it in the U.S. Congress. By the same token, however, any sense that the collapse of the Agreed Framework was a victory for the U.S. ‒ or the international nuclear nonproliferation regime ‒ was dispelled decisively when North Korea successfully carried out its first nuclear test in October 2006.

Doubling down on the opportunity seemingly being offered by the U.S.-China détente, North Korea immediately launched the ambitious program of outreach efforts and civilian exchanges with the U.S. Most notably, the unprecedented transmittal of two official letters from the North Korean Supreme People’s Assembly to the U.S. Congress essentially demanded a realignment of U.S. policy toward the Korean peninsula based on the five principles articulated in the Shanghai Communiqué. The American Korean Friendship and Information Center (AKFIC) supported North Korea’s demand by mounting a wide-ranging lobbying effort in the U.S. This effort sought to leverage the anti-foreign interventionism sentiment in the U.S., which was rampant during final phase of the Vietnam War, to gain support among the American public for the withdrawal of the U.S. armed forces from South Korea. While there was no official reply from the U.S. government or any of its agencies to the various civilian and inter-governmental outreach efforts by North Korea, a review of the U.S.’s Korea policy actually was underway already within the U.S. Department of State. The review was conducted under the auspices of an Interdepartmental Group for East Asia and the Pacific. This group was chaired by the deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian Affairs, Richard Sneider, who subsequently served as U.S. ambassador to South Korea from 1974 to 1978. In early April 1973, the group produced a report that reviewed the U.S. government’s policy toward the Korean peninsula (Sneider 1972). It addressed the issues of concern to North Korea, albeit if only by indirection. Specifically, the report analyzed the main trends in the geopolitical situation of the Korean peninsula and proposed options for reorienting U.S. policy to accommodate these trends, as feasible, within the scope of the U.S.’s national interest. Judging from its singular focus on the policy implications of the then-ongoing “accommodation between North Korea and South Korea” (i.e., the inter-Korean dialogue), the policy review apparently was initiated in response to the North-South Joint Communiqué of July 4, 1972.35 At the same time, however, the group also had to grabble with the issue of a growing fear of abandonment that was fueling heated disputes between Seoul and Washington over trade and American military aid in this same period. The proximate cause of this fear of abandonment ‒ as a subsequent scandal36 made abundantly clear ‒ was President Nixon’s decision in 1972 to reduce the number of U.S. troops deployed in South Korea from 63,000 to 43,000.

This partial withdrawal of U.S. troops was exploited by the Park Chung-hee administration and its supporters who were quick to characterize it as a message from the U.S. saying “we won’t rescue you if North Korea invades again.”37 For the Park administration, though, the troop reduction served as a convenient justification for its adoption of the Yushin (‘Restoration’) constitution, which included a declaration of martial law, dissolution of the National Assembly, and a ban on all anti-government activity. This ‘restoration’ retained a semblance of democratic governance while granting unfettered powers to Park Chung-hee and making him eligible to remain in office for as long as he wished. In effect, it made Park Chung-hee’s autocratic rule in South Korea essentially equivalent to Kim Il Sung’s autocratic rule in North Korea. As a potential further parallel, it also led South Korea to initiate a clandestine nuclear weapons program, which it abandoned only under pressure after the U.S. discovered it in 1976. In the final analysis, then, the policy recommendation was that the U.S. could ‘tolerate’ inter-Korean dialogue ‒ or potentially even facilitate it ‒ provided the dialogue did not threaten regional stability or impede the pursuit of the U.S.’s interests in the region. At the same time, it affirmed that North Korea’s priorities should be subordinated to all the other priorities cited in the report. Given these policy guidelines, and the unstable situation in South Korea, it was a foregone conclusion that the U.S. government would reaffirm the need to maintain the deployment of its troops in South Korea and to continue the provision of military assistance. Both were declared to be critical for deterring North Korean aggression (pace Kim Il Sung) and restraining the nuclear capabilities of China and the Soviet Union. As a result, North Korea’s rapprochement initiative in the 1970s failed to gain any traction whatsoever in Washington. This outcome became irreversible when the inter-Korean dialogue also proved to be short-lived and North-South tensions were revived. Successive U.S. administrations determined that managing relations with Seoul during the draconian military dictatorships of the 1970s and 1980s was a difficult enough challenge for Washington without adding the establishment of relations with Pyongyang to the mix. In any case, North Korea had no leverage over the U.S. during this period. Likewise, while China had lent its support to North Korea’s eight-point proposal during the détente negotiations in the early 1970s, ultimately it had other more pressing geopolitical priorities that trumped its moral support for North Korea’s proposal and the aspiration for the right of self-determination embodied in it.38

The impact on North Korea of the normalization of relations with South Korea by the Soviet Union/Russia and China was discussed in Chapter Five. Ideally, the newly emerging inter-Korean relationship facilitated by the Nordpolitik policy could have served as a remedy for South Korea’s ‘cooptation’ of North Korea’s two most important allies. While the successful conclusion of the Basic Agreements was a promising step in that direction, ultimately neither of the ‘preconditions’ North Korea had envisioned for a peaceful Korean reunification were met. The U.S. armed forces remained deployed in South Korea, and there were no signs of the emergence of a ‘revolutionary impetus’ in South Korea. The dramatic breakthrough in the democratization process in South Korea ‒ after the June 29 Declaration of 1987 signaled the impending end of a quarter century of military dictatorships ‒ largely satisfied the popular demand for a change of government. In the end, as one leading scholar of the democratization process in South Korea has argued: “The rapidly changing political situation in South Korea served as a disincentive for North Korea to proceed with any serious discussion with Seoul.” North Korea’s confrontational approach centered on the development of its nuclear program in the early 1990s reflected the deliberate prioritizing of a strategy for normalizing diplomatic relations with the United States. Aware of the failure of its previous démarche in the 1970s, if it were to be successful this time, North Korea recognized that it needed to acquire the kind of leverage the U.S. would recognize. While it is impossible to assert with any certainty precisely when North Korea’s ‘nuclear program’ also became a ‘nuclear weapons program’, the shift to a confrontational approach is not conclusive proof that North Korea made a decision at that point to develop a full-blown, active nuclear weapons program.

A more probable interpretation is that North Korea’s confrontational approach was adopted mainly to get the U.S.’s attention by exploiting its determination to prevent nuclear weapons proliferation. Considering the IAEA’s evidence of three experimental plutonium reprocessing runs conducted by North Korea, nuclear weapons-related research seems to have begun in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The development of nuclear weapons was not the sole or even primary purpose of the nuclear program, however, as is shown by Pyongyang’s initiation of a proposal to have its proliferation-prone graphite-moderated reactors replaced by proliferation-resistant LWRs. After all, as a tool of diplomacy, ambiguity about the development of nuclear weapons can serve the purpose just as well as the actual development of functioning nuclear weapons. The same applies in the context of deterrence. Once diplomacy had encountered a major, irreversible impasse, as it did when the Agreed Framework deal ended in 2002, a different calculus became relevant to North Korea’s foreign policy decision-making. In early 2003, only after the U.S. had signaled its complete lack of interest in reviving the deal, North Korea declared its intention to develop an arsenal of nuclear weapons and the related delivery systems. Subsequently, following the successful conclusion of its first nuclear test in October 2006, the development of nuclear weapons became an integral part of North Korea’s national security strategy.

Footnote

1 This study attempts to reflect an emic perspective on North Korea’s foreign policy behavior as a counterbalance to the etic perspective that is overwhelming represented by the mainstream discourse on North Korea by scholars, pundits, and the mass media. The goal is to supplement the assessment of North Korea’s foreign policy objectives with descriptive in-depth accounts that reflect how insiders ‒ North Korean foreign policymakers, in this case ‒ understand their decisions and the reactions to them by their diplomatic partners. Kang Sok Ju quoting a passage from Gone with the Wind during the Agreed Framework negotiations in 1994 that had not occurred to the Americans with whom he was negotiating illustrates an emic perspective. Cf. Admin. “Difference between Emic and Etic,” Difference Between. July 23, 2015. Web. June 5, 2021. https://www.differencebetween.com/differencebetween-emic-and-vs-etic/

2 Haig, Alexander. 1971. Letter to Vernon Walters. April 27. Exchanges Leading Up to Henry A. Kissinger’s Trip to China. Access at https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB66/ch-16.pdf.

3 Zhou, Enlai. 1971a. Message to Nixon in Response to His Message of December 16, 1970. April 21. Access at https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB66/ch-17.pdf.

4 Kissinger 1971d.

5 The ‘Korean Question’ refers to the conflicting claims of North Korea and South Korea to domestic and international legitimacy and the issue of national reunification. It was one of three such ‘questions’ put to the international community in the mid-20th century, the other two being China and Vietnam. The resolution of the ‘China Question’ occurred with the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 even though the ‘question’ still lingers among some supporters of Taiwan. The ‘Vietnam Question’ also was resolved after three decades of bloody conflict that resulted in reunification under a communist-led national government in 1976. The ‘Korean Question’ alone has failed so far to realize a decisive resolution. See Gills, Barry K. Korea Verses Korea: A Case of Contested Legitimacy. New York, NY: Routledge, 1996.

6 Summary of AG-049 United Nations Commission for the Unification and Rehabilitation of Korea (UNCURK) (1950-1973). Access at https://search.archives.un.org/downloads/united-nationscommission-for-unification-and-rehabilitation-of-korea-uncurk-1950-1973.pdf

7 Kissinger, Henry A. 1971c. Conversations with Zhou Enlai on Opening Statements, Agenda, and President’s Visit. October 20. Access at https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB70/doc10.pdf.

8 Ibid.

9 Shanghai Communiqué 1972.

10 Kim, Il-sung. 1971. On Improving and Strengthening the Training of Party Cadres: Speech Delivered Before the Teachers of Cadre-Training Institutions. KIM IL SUNG WORKS, 26:424-450. Accessed at https://www.marxists.org/archive/kim-il-sung/cw/26.pdf

11 Gross, J.1990. “After the summit; Gorbachev, ending U.S. trip, meets South Korea leader, who sees a renewal of ties.” The New York Times. Accessed at https://www.nytimes.com/1990/06/05/world/after-summit-gorbachev-ending-us-trip-meets-south-korea-leader-who-sees-renewal.html.

12 Ibid.

13 Ibid.

14 Sterngold, J.1991. “Gorbachev Reaps Accords in Korea.” New York Times. Access at https://www.nytimes.com/1991/04/21/world/gorbachev-reaps-accords-in-korea.html.

15 Rodong Sinmun, 1992.8.22.

16 Li Seok-yun. “Key Link to World Peace.” Rodong Sinmun, 1992. 8.25.

17 Rodong Sinmun, 1996.7.13. Some readers may be perplexed to understand how this line of criticism reflects the viewpoint of “a generation committed to reform and opening up for economic development.” Perhaps an explanation is to be found in the younger generation’s respect for the revolutionary generation and their accomplishments that for them is an inviolable principle underpinning any reform efforts.

18 Kim, Il-sung. 1972a. Answers to Questions Raised by Newsmen of Yomiuri Shimbum. January 10, 1972. Accessed at https://www.marxists.org/archive/kim-Il Sung/cw/27.pdf.

19 Kim, Il-sung. 1988. On Our People’s Struggle for Socialist Construction and National Reunification: Talk to a Delegation from the Communist Party of the United States of America. June 24. KIM IL SUNG WORKS, 41:128-141. Accessed at https://www.marxists.org/archive/kim-il-sung/cw/41.pdf.

20 Kim, Il-sung. 1972a. Answers to Questions Raised by Newsmen of Yomiuri Shimbum. January 10, 1972. Accessed at https://www.marxists.org/archive/kim-IlSung/cw/27.pdf.

21 Ibid.

22 “The AKFIC did not, however, simply parrot Pyongyang’s propaganda about the greatness of Kim Il Sung. To the contrary, the group reformulated North Korean arguments through the lens of the Vietnam War in an effort to gain support from the anti-war movement. The organization emerged as the result of both North Korean efforts to sway American public opinion and as a product of a radical far-left that conceived of U.S. foreign policy as a threat to “anti-imperialist” movements across the developing world. “[Emphasis added] In other words, AKFIC was as much related to progressive American politics as it was to North Korea’s outreach effort.” See Brandon gauthier. (2015). “North Korea’s American Allies: DPRK Public Diplomacy and the American-Korean Friendship and Information Center, 1971-1976.” NKIDP e-Dossier (18). Retrieved from North Korea’s American Allies | Wilson Center

23 Ibid.

24 American-Korean Friendship And Information Center. 1973b. “Comments from Leading American Senators.” Korea Focus 2, no. 2 (Spring 1973): 28-29. Obtained by Brandon Gauthier. Access at http://digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/121135.

25 Ibid.

26 Ibid.

27 American-Korean Friendship And Information Center. 1973a. “For Congress to Act We Must Speak Out, Loud and Clear!” Korea Focus 2, no. 2 (Spring 1973): 27, 30. Obtained by Brandon Gauthier. Accessed at http://digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/121133.

28 American-Korean Friendship And Information Center. 1974. “A Letter to Congress: Appeal of Constituents and Voters to Our Elected Representatives in the Congress of the USA.” Korea Focus 3, no. 1 (August-September 1974). Obtained by Brandon Gauthier. Accessed at http://digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/121136.

29 Kim, Il-sung. 1993. Concluding Speech at the 21st Plenary Meeting of the 6th Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea. December 8. KIM IL SUNG WORKS, 44:238-254. Accessed at https://www.marxists.org/archive/kim-il-sung/cw/44.pdf.

30 Supreme Commander and Order 0034 (1993.3.8) of the Korean People’s Army; Government Statement of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (1993.3.12).

31 Ibid.

32 National Security Archive. 1998. Former Secretary William Perry’s Meeting with President Kim Dae-jung. Cable from the U.S. Embassy-Seoul to the U.S. Secretary of State. December 8. Accessed at https://nsarchive.gwu.edu/document/16099-document-07-cable-amembassy-seoul-6928.

33 Democratic People’s Republic of Korea a Foreign Ministry spokesman’s statement (1994.1.31).

34 Kim, Il-sung. 1993. Concluding Speech at the 21st Plenary Meeting of the 6th Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea. December 8. KIM IL SUNG WORKS, 44:238-254. Accessed at https://www.marxists.org/archive/kim-il-sung/cw/44.pdf.

35 Gowman, Philip. 1972. “North-South Korea Joint Communiqué. July 4.” Accessed at https://londonkoreanlinks.net/1972/07/04/north-south-korea-joint-communique/.

36 In 1976, the tensions between Seoul and Washington came to a head when a Congressional influence-buying scandal, known as ‘Koreagate’, was uncovered. Tongsun Park, the South Korean lobbyist who orchestrated the scandal, channeled funds from the Korean Central Intelligence Agency (KCIA) to at least ten Democratic members of the U.S. Congress. The goal was to obtain U.S. congressional support for a reversal of Nixon’s decision on troop levels in South Korea.

37 Oberdorfer, Don and Carlin, Robert. 2014. The Two Korea: A Contemporary History. New York: Basic books, p.11.

38 This concurrence of views reflected a shared bias about the ‘danger’ posed by the ‘impulsive nature of Koreans’. For example, during their meeting on February 23, 1972, Zhou agreed with Nixon when he offered the following assessment: “The Koreans, both the North and the South, are emotionally impulsive people. It is important that both of us exert influence to see that these impulses, and their belligerency, don’t create incidents which would embarrass our two countries. It would be silly, and unreasonable to have the Korean peninsula be the scene of a conflict between our two governments. It happened once, and it must never happen again” (Memcon, 1972b, p. 17).

Figures
Fig. 1. The situational model seeks to explain what the actor’s behavior will be in response to a problem using information on the actor’s relationship to the other entities occupying roles in a type of situation defined by the problem (See Hudson’s article page 121).
Tables
Table. 1. North Korea’s Confrontational Behaviors
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