Explaining North Korean foreign policy
Choy, Yong Seok
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This study starts with the question of what conditions make North Korea choose between confrontation and collaboration toward the United States. In order to answer the research question, this study sets up four hypotheses based on prospect theory and human needs theory. The first hypothesis is that if Pyongyang regime perceives its survival to be threatened, it will frame its decision on a losses frame. Vice versa, if Pyongyang regime perceives its security situation to be improving, it will act on a gains frame. The second hypothesis is that under the condition that the need for survival is met, if Pyongyang regime perceives its identity to be threatened, it will act on a losses frame. Contrarily if Pyongyang regime perceives its identity to be improving, it will frame its decision on a gains frame. According to prospect theory, when North Korea acts on a gains frame, it will be risk averse and cooperative. When it is on a losses frame, it will take a risky option. According to the needs hierarchy theory, North Korea would be more risk acceptant when its security is threatened than its identity threatened. In order to test these hypotheses, this study selects five cases related to Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile diplomacy with the United States from 1992 to 2002: the withdrawal from the Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1993 and 2003, the crisis in April 1995 caused by the North rejecting South Korean-type nuclear reactor, the test-firing of a long-range missile in 1998, and the détente between Washington and Pyongyang in 2000. Pyongyang regime’s perception of needs situation is measured by content analysis of an official North Korean newspaper. In order to reveal changes in Pyongyang’s need situation, this dissertation examines changes in the objective conditions of domestic politics, economy, society of North Korea and foreign relations with the United States. This study finds; 1) North Korea employs brinkmanship strategy when its security is threatened; 2) it takes a conflictual policy when its identity is threatened; 3) Pyongyang becomes cooperative when it perceives its security to be improving. From the theoretical standpoint, the study might contribute to prospect theory in that it provides an alternative to identifying reference point by introducing the concept of human needs into prospect theory. This study provides an example that domestic politics can exercise influence on foreign policy even in a totalitarian society. This study also shows another example of the needs hierarchy theory: only when security problem is solved, identity need begins to matter. This study may be helpful for policy makers who want to see Pyongyang cooperate with the world. The prescription would be: 1) if we can make the North perceive its external security to be improving, Pyongyang will act in a cooperative way; 2) the North’s domestic insecurity may lead to brinkmanship diplomacy. Therefore, humanitarian assistance for North Korea is recommended; 3) attention should be given to Pyongyang’s identity need. Even when the North perceives its security to be stable, it would take a conflictual diplomacy if it perceives the identity need to be deteriorating.