The World in Which We Live

KCNA (North Korean Central News Agency)/Reuters RTX2HQYT

A test launch of a ground-to-ground medium long-range ballistic missile Hwasong-10.

North Korea: Perfect Harmony between Totalitarianism and Nuclear Capability

by Patrick Chartrand, Frédéric Harvey, Étienne Tremblay and Éric Ouellet

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Major Patrick Chartrand, an infantry officer with the Royal 22e Régiment, is currently serving as Operations Officer at the Canadian Manoeuvre Training Centre (CMTC) in Wainwright, Alberta.

Major Frédéric Harvey, an infantry officer, currently holds the position of Resource Management Officer at Vice Chief of the Defence Staff Group Headquarters.

Major Étienne Tremblay, CD, P.Eng., MBA, an officer with the Corps of Royal Canadian Engineers, is currently in charge of the Engineer Support Coordination Centre at Canadian Joint Operations Command.

Éric Ouellet, Ph.D., is a professor in the Defence Studies Department at the Canadian Forces College in Toronto.


For years, analysts have been predicting the end of the totalitarian communist regime in North Korea, which has difficulty feeding its own people.1 To make matters worse, the leaders in Pyongyang have invested considerable resources in their nuclear program, and they have been ‘playing the atomic weapons card’ since the early-1990s, which has resulted in various international embargoes and sanctions against the country. On the face of it, the North Korean regime’s nuclear strategy seems irrational and counter-productive.

The authors of this article will demonstrate that the fundamental ideology underpinning the North Korean regime serves to both justify the possession of nuclear weapons and to reinforce the regime’s legitimacy. Nuclear capability offers the regime protection against external and internal pressures that call into question its merits and the ideology upon which it is based. The possession of nuclear weapons is thus irrevocable and definitive, because it contributes to the regime’s strong, consistent institutional alignment.

The analysis presented in this article is based upon an institutional approach2 that privileges the search for the sources and dynamics of legitimization, which enable institutional structures to be perpetuated over time, despite emerging social and political pressures. This analysis will focus upon the three forms of institutional legitimization: laws, rules, and legal systems; implicit shared norms and values; and shared ideas and cognitive constructs. The authors conclude the article by demonstrating that, within the North Korean regime, the sources and dynamics of institutional legitimization are highly consistent and are mutually reinforced by the development of nuclear capability.

Peter Hermes Furian/Shutterstock/Stock Illustration ID 353593271

Korean peninsula.

Click to enlarge image

Institutional Legitimacy Based upon Legal Mechanisms

The country’s official ideology is called juche. Since 1955, the juche ideology has been codified in the country’s official constitution, which rests upon three main pillars:3 political independence (chaju); military independence (chawi); and economic independence (charip).4 Juche is interpreted in the light of another important concept, suryong (leader), which states that the leader of the people is the only one able to determine the substance of juche. This prevents ideological deviations. At the end of the Korean War, Kim Il-sung quickly carried out ideological purges within the party. The effect of those purges was to consolidate the party’s political position and to strengthen the cult of personality attached to it. Kim created an ideological monopoly and positioned himself as the sole interpreter and practitioner of the juche philosophy. Doctrinal control of the tenets of juche gave Kim Il-sung the power of ideological justification he needed in order to definitively establish his dictatorship in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).5

STR New/Reuters RTXMRC5

Kim Il-sung, founder of North Korea, with his son, Kim Jong-il in 1983.

The concept of suryong is, in turn, justified, in a near-tautology, by the pillar of chaju (political independence), which is at the heart of juche. Foreign influences can be better contained when all the important decisions that concern the country are made unilaterally by a strong leader, who is the only one able to channel the energies of the people in support of suryong.6

The pillar of chawi (military independence) takes the form of an overtly-belligerent policy aimed at countering and deterring any “imperialist moves of aggression and war” by means of military threat.7 Not only did the generation of impressive armed forces become indispensable for defending national independence, but it also ensured the mass mobilization essential for deliberately instilling the juche ideology. In addition, the need to equip the armed forces with weapons produced within the country created the conditions required to support charip (economic independence).8

Charip serves to engage the people, not only in producing the military arsenal required to ensure the country’s survival, but also in achieving economic autarky. Charip is a crucial condition for freeing the DPRK from its dependence upon foreign aid and investment.9

The transfer of power from Kim Il-sung to his son Kim Jong-il necessitated some adjustments to juche. For one thing, unlike his father, Kim Jong-il had no military experience. Given the need for a Supreme Leader who must be the only one with the power to implement chawi, this was regarded as a major deficiency that could undermine the Kims’ legitimacy. To overcome that deficiency, Kim Il-sung reinforced his son’s institutional legitimacy by appointing him to the prestigious positions of Supreme Commander of the North Korean People’s Army (NKPA) and Chairman of the National Defence Committee.10

The preparations for the handover of power were not sufficient to ensure Kim Jong-il’s legitimacy. Quickly realizing that he was in a vulnerable position, the new leader had no choice but to acknowledge that the military forces were the greatest asset at his disposal for achieving that goal. The period was marked by the introduction of the songun (military first) principles, which assigned a central role to the NKPA,11 and also by the adoption in 1998 of a new constitution in which the importance of the NKPA’s role in juche was made official, and the power of the entire NKPA would be at Kim Jong-il’s disposal.12 In other words, Kim Jong-il used his power as the sole interpreter of juche to attribute greater importance to the chawi pillar, in accordance with the principles of songun, than to the other two pillars.

North Korean soldiers on parade.

Damir Sagolj/Reuters RTS12E3O

To protect the legitimacy it had just acquired, the NKPA had to establish its presence everywhere in North Korean society.13 The songun policy therefore involved reinforcing national defence through development of the defence industry.14 From then on, the military–industrial complex was considered to be the primary pillar of the economy, with the manufacturing and agricultural sectors relegated to second place.15

Following the adoption of the constitution in 1998, Kim Jong-il succeeded in implementing the measures necessary for effective management of the various internal and external pressures applied to the regime. Through massive investments in defence,16 the regime was able to adequately support the nuclear arms development program.

From a military point of view, the development of a nuclear weapon highlighted the success of the new policies by enhancing the prestige of an organization that had been morally diminished due to famine and widespread commodity shortages. At the same time, it kept the risk of a coup d’état to a minimum.17 Most importantly, nuclear technology enabled the NKPA, which had to counter the American threat, to achieve a force ratio sufficient to deter a superpower from intervening in the Korean peninsula.18

In a situation that could have led to a popular uprising, the changes introduced by suryong contributed both to expanding military troops’ role of interacting with the local population, and to increasing the local people’s appreciation for the military. Because the NKPA administered food and other indispensable goods, it was able to distribute those resources to the people, and it even took the credit for providing humanitarian aid from abroad.19

Effective development of operational nuclear weapons and the ascension to power of a new Kim necessitated further political changes. Kim Jong-un modernized the interpretation of juche by officially adopting byungjin (parallel development) on 31 March 2013. The new approach, which favours the pursuit of economic development in conjunction with reinforcement of the nuclear arsenal to counter military threats, was designed to keep the peace on the Korean peninsula through nuclear deterrence while stimulating economic growth.20 In other words, once the nuclear weapon had been acquired, the pillars of military independence (charwi) and economic independence (charip) could be accorded equal importance.

Under the legislation it had just enacted, the DPRK presented itself as a nation with nuclear capability like the other powers, and it even went so far as to institute an official policy for employing that capability. The legislation states, among other things, that North Korea is willing to support international efforts to achieve denuclearization, but that as long as the other countries maintain their nuclear arsenals, so will North Korea. However, the arsenal must be used only for dissuasion and for retaliation, not for offensive actions.21 Paradoxically, by refusing to draw a distinction between military and economic use of nuclear weapons, the legislation confirms the regime’s intention to definitively reject the concept of non-proliferation.22

North Korean artillery firepower demonstration.

KCNA (North Korean Central News Agency)/Reuters RTS13YAQ

In practice, byungjin is manifested in two ways: support for nuclear-related industries (such as ballistic missiles) through the sums invested and “job creation” for the people; and the filling of government coffers through illegal sales of military technology to other countries, as occurred with Syria and Libya.23 Byungjin gives the regime a way to justify its massive spending on energy and on nuclear weapons to its people and the international community, thereby enabling it to simultaneously support its economy and reassure the senior military leaders.

The announcement in April 2013 that the Yongbyon nuclear reactor, which had been inactive since 2008, would be put back into operation and that an experimental light water reactor was under construction demonstrated the regime’s intent to make use of its nuclear capability. Although Pyongyang has stated publicly that the reactor would be used to produce energy to meet the country’s needs, it is highly likely that the infrastructure could be configured to produce up to 20 kilograms of plutonium per year for military use.24

Institutional Legitimacy Based upon Implicit Norms

The specific geography of Korea has historically been an obstacle to the advance of neighouring powers. The intense internal shocks North Korea experienced between 1860 and the Korean War (1950–1953), added to the trauma engendered by six invasions, gave Koreans the impression that theirs was one of the most invaded countries on Earth.25 As a result of that long series of invasions, Koreans lived in fear of foreigners.26 The PDRK’s leaders were quick to leverage those fears rooted in history and mould them into a “siege mentality” that has convinced Koreans that their country is under threat from a hostile world seeking to annihilate it.27

From the time he came to power, Kim Il-sung feared that too much dependence upon foreign aid would reduce the DPRK to the rank of an economic satellite.28 Consequently, from Pyongyang’s point of view, the country’s fears for its survival constituted irrefutable proof that the country could be emancipated only through political liberation, together with total economic autarky. Those fears underlie the juche ideology, defined as “the stance of rejecting dependence on others and of using one’s own powers, believing in one’s own strength and displaying the revolutionary spirit of self-reliance.”29 

US Air Force Photo/Alamy Stock Photo H2F72W

USAF B1-B stealth strategic bomber and F-15 fighter escort fly close to the North Korea/South Korea border in South Korean airspace, 21 September 2016.

Xenophobic fears also forced Kim Il-sung to add a Korean cultural touch to the Marxist–Leninist ideology he was promoting, whose origins were inherently foreign, in order to indigenize and legitimize it.30 He thus drew strongly (and secretly) upon the historic social and spiritual traditions of Confucianism. A number of the elements of that traditional Asian doctrine, such as respect for the father, filial devotion, and harmony achieved through absolute adherence to the rules, were incorporated into the juche ideology and channelled into respect for the “Father,” which was transformed into a cult of personality surrounding Kim Il-sung.31 Since juche was partly based upon norms and values that had prevailed before the establishment of the Kims’ communist regime, its premises rallied the people directly and with sensitivity.

Nor was the concept of suryong created in a sociological void. The ancient Confucian traditions counselled the veneration of paternal authority, respect for the ancestors, and filial piety, and they played a fundamental role in shaping the regime and in promoting acceptance of the idea that the “Father of the Nation” knew better than others how to defend it against the foreigners.32

However, that does not mean that the leader is immune to power struggles. Although it is difficult to obtain detailed information about the various threats perceived by the Kims over time, it would be fair to say that there was a perceived risk of a coup d’état orchestrated by the elites or by a group of dissatisfied military leaders. The actions that were intended to protect the Kims’ legitimacy reveal that chronic paranoia. Since taking power in 2011, Kim Jong-un is thought to have ordered the executions of at least 100 senior officials and military leaders. He may have used purges as a means of consolidating his power, or to allay any insecurity created by his relative youth.33

REUTERS/Alamy Stock Photo J3HAJR

Kim Jong-un at a military parade, 15 April 2017.

Another strategy that reveals a certain insecurity on the part of the North Korean leaders is the coopting of the “preferred son,” an element of Korean Confucianism.34 While neglecting the majority of its population, the DPRK was able to set up a system favouring a small, influential selectorate which then depended upon the institution in order to maintain its privileges.35 Rather than instilling a climate of fear, this type of strategy works much more subtly, ensuring the elites’ continued loyalty. The various advantages made available to the upper class may be economic as well as political, and are a product of their influential positions in the government.36

Curiously, these norms and values that were promoted before the establishment of communism had to be isolated and protected against any form of modernism. The regime seemed to recognize the possibility, however remote, that it might be overthrown by the North Korean people. The regime in Pyongyang is well known for blocking the flow of information from outside the country. Recent examples reveal a perceived danger that North Korean “moral purity” would be corrupted—a danger which was invoked to justify closing the Kaesong border crossing between North Korea and South Korea in December 2009.37

The creation of restricted economic zones in the 1990s38 was another way of blocking access to foreign markets and trade for all but a few selected economists and businesspeople. However, when the economic incentives are big enough, even the most reliable, patriotic officers may succumb to corruption, thereby eroding the regime’s ability to govern effectively.39 Thus, “an insidious process of discreditation of authority” emerged, which could have “undermined the stability of power…. Aware of the danger, Kim Jong-il [had] launched an internal reform movement [to] work toward appeasement on the foreign affairs front.”40 [Translation.] Although this reform movement may indicate a certain flexibility, it should not be interpreted as a trend toward openness, but rather, as a new approach for addressing the danger of revolution that even limited capitalism might generate, thereby jeopardizing the survival of the dictatorship.

The DPRK’s cultural isolation serves the purposes of the totalitarian regime in Pyongyang very well, but, curiously, it is justified in terms of the need to protect the ancient, implicit norms and values of Confucianism—already deeply rooted before the arrival of communism—which are the basis for social stability. The rejection of Western modernism has real and legitimate foundations in North Korea, as it also does today in other societies. In that context, nuclear capability, which is intended to guarantee the DRPK’s absolute independence, can also be justified on the basis of norms that are subtle but sociologically powerful.

Peter Horree/Alamy Stock Photo ETY6JH

Confucius (551-479 BC).

Legitimacy Based upon Shared Ideas and Cognitive Constructs

Perceptions and interpretations of reality, whether or not they are founded upon objective facts, remain powerful determinants in decision making. As mentioned previously, the North Koreans have, over time, acquired a fear of other nations that essentially amounts to a fear for their own country’s very survival. However, beyond normative attitudes toward foreigners, North Koreans’ common perceptions of reality have specific cognitive foundations, namely, the “imperialist” enemies from the South.41 The regime in Pyongyang deliberately builds those foundations.

Since the end of the Second World War, the PDRK’s only real enemies have been the United States and South Korea. But the United States is a nuclear power, and it maintains a reserve of warheads in the region for the express purpose of countering the DPRK. In that sense, nuclear deterrence as practised by the North Koreans is logical and consistent.42 In addition, history has shown that a nation which possesses nuclear weapons gains access to a real ‘place at the table’ with the sovereign nations, and that fact has not escaped the North Koreans’ attention.43

These cognitive constructs, which are easy to legitimize, are part of another construct used actively by the regime: the danger of an imminent surprise attack by the United States and its ally, South Korea. In this context, nuclear capability may become the only guarantee that chaju can really be maintained44 and that it can actually ensure the country’s security.45 However, the regime goes farther, maintaining that it must not only possess nuclear weapons, but also develop a nuclear weapon that will give it the advantage over the Americans and their allies in order to defend North Korean sovereignty.46 This view is consistent with the logic behind Cold War–era calculations, which were made at a time when, in order to create a truly deterrent effect, the countries involved had to demonstrate that they were capable of surviving a pre-emptive nuclear strike.47

David Gray/Reuters RTR1XMIW

North Koreans ride a train past propaganda posters in the capital of Pyongyang.

To convince the North Korean people that the threat was imminent, the regime created a collective memory, and the narratives that would become part of it were diffused officially and in a structured way through the education system, the media, and official rhetoric. The American threat to employ nuclear weapons to put an end to the war for the liberation of North Korea48 was clearly foregrounded, and war was defined by the regime as a secession resulting from external forces. The official rhetoric hammered home the dogmas of threat, oppression, suffering, and anti-imperialism, which were then kept alive in the collective memory.49

The reality of the imminent invasion, as interpreted by Pyongyang, was reshaped recently by comparing the situations of North Korea and Iraq. The events of 11 September 2001 were used to justify the invasion of Iraq, even though that nation had very little to do with the World Trade Center attacks. In its analysis of the situation, North Korea suggested that, if Iraq had had nuclear weapons to defend itself, it would never have been invaded by the United States.50 That view is completely consistent with the principle of chaju, and, from the North Koreans’ perspective, fully justifies their possession of nuclear weapons. Thus, the idea that the DPRK could be besieged by powerful hostile forces serves as the cognitive basis for the development of North Korea’s military strategy, in which nuclear weapons are depicted as the only possible option.51

This way of seeing the situation is reinforced by other perceptions. Specifically, the North Korean strategists concluded that their conventional military capabilities were numerically and technologically inferior to those of the Americans and the South Koreans. Nuclear weapons were therefore justified by the need to close the gap,52 and to compensate for the obsolescence of a conventional military arsenal dating from the Soviet era.53 Nuclear capability was often cited in the regime’s official messages as a strategic equalizing element that cost less to use and acted as a deterrent, providing protection against any aggression.54

Lastly, the additional privations—notably famine—to which the North Korean people were subjected following the prioritization of the nuclear program55 also demonstrate that those privations were considered to be a price worth paying. But since Kim Jong-un took power, the justification of nuclear weapons in the broad sense has been inextricably tied to raising ordinary people’s standard of living.56 Byungjin accords the same importance to economic development as to defence, and the DPRK does not distinguish between its use of nuclear power for military or civilian purposes. The regime tacitly justifies its decision to possess nuclear weapons by citing the need to have access to them in order to develop civilian applications that will increase standards of living and reduce the costs of obtaining conventional weapons.

Institutional Assessment

In light of this analysis, it is easier to understand that Kim Jong-un’s introduction of the byungjin policy (and the April 2013 law on nuclear weapons) may constitute a recalibration of songun that raises the charip and chawi pillars to the same height. We have seen that this change is the culmination of the long series of palliative corrections introduced during the Kim Jong-il era, and that it formalizes the possession of nuclear weapons as an official means of preparing for the country’s future economic expansion.

We have seen how external pressures, such as the American threat, the obsolescence of the NKPA’s conventional arsenal in the context of South Korea’s growing modernization, and the disastrous results of bad economic policies have affected the relationship between the pillars of juche and aggravated the regime’s existential fears. Figure 1 illustrates the relationship between the pillars and the central role of nuclear capability as a gauge of the regime’s stability. When all those factors are brought together in a balanced relationship, they create a surprising stability. The DPRK is not a regime on the verge of collapse, or of abandoning its nuclear capability.


Figure 1 – Juche and Nuclear Capability.

Click to enlarge image

However, nuclear weapons are not the only tool the DPRK can use to dispel its existential fears. The regime also ensures its legitimacy through a series of manoeuvres which can be characterized as isomorphic and mimetic behaviours. As we have seen, the fundamental principles on which juche is based were a product of the isomorphic appropriation of ideas drawn from Confucian and Marxist–Leninist thought. Those apparently-disparate principles were amalgamated to create a political alloy combining the DPRK and Korea’s Confucianist past. That alloy serves as the foundation and justification for all the regime’s actions. Thus, it appears that the regime is using two main tools, juche and nuclear capability, for the purpose of justification—tools that, in its view, not only support one another, but could not exist without each other. In that sense, the authoritarian nature of the regime has been a blessing for the Kims, since it has allowed them to modify juche several times and to renew the ideology’s legitimacy when it faced pressure both from inside the country (for example, the famines), and from outside it (for example, the growing obsolescence of its conventional weapons).

It is important to note that ideological realignments generally do not happen quickly. On the contrary, they are part of a series of slow transformations, such as those observed during the doctrinal revisions that led to the introduction of songun and byungjin. Interestingly, none of those revisions were carried out during the Kim Jong-il regime, which was marked by cognitive misalignments. It appears that a doctrinal revision occurs shortly after the arrival of a successor in the Presidium, but that a leader cannot carry out more than one revision during his time in power. This pattern can be explained in two ways. First, it can be interpreted as the regime’s refusal to acknowledge its mistakes. This perspective would support the idea that the regime must appear strong in order to prevent internal dissent. A second interpretation holds that each Kim feels obliged to emulate his father in issuing a juche to which he has added his own personal touch. This perspective underlies the concept of the suryong, according to which the Supreme Leader is the only one capable of guiding the people toward the communist ideal that North Korea is defending. In short, doctrinal revisions could be interpreted as a rite of passage through which the leader, inspired by the suryong concept, proves that he is enlightened, and, above all, establishes his legitimacy in relation to the legal or regulatory systems.

Damir Sagolj/Reuters RTS12G5B

A North Korean Navy truck carries the ‘Pukkuksong’ submarine-launched-ballistic-missile (SLBM) during a military parade in Pyongyang, 15 April 2017.


The fourth nuclear test carried out by North Korea, on 6 January 2016, demonstrated that the DPRK definitively possesses nuclear capability and will not abandon it. The arguments advanced by Pyongyang to justify that nuclear test are directly related to North Korea’s military strategy, which focuses upon the use of nuclear weapons as a persuasive measure in the context of a perceived threat from the United States.57 The DPRK’s possession of nuclear weapons is supported by strong and consistent alignment of the three pillars: normative, cognitive, and regulatory. It has been demonstrated that nuclear weapons, juche ideology and the legitimacy of the regime support one another on an ongoing basis. There is a circular logic in the relationship between juche and nuclear weapons: the two elements support and justify each other. Therefore, in order to perpetuate the regime, the Kims need both a strong ideology and nuclear weapons.

The nuclear test on 6 January 2016 also drew strong reactions from the international community. The UN Security Council announced that it would expand sanctions against the DPRK.58 The President of South Korea, Park Geun-Hye, announced that her country would apply pressure for severe sanctions against the DPRK, and stated that its actions represented an “unacceptable challenge” for global security.59 The U.S. House of Representatives voted in favour of tougher U.S. sanctions against the DPRK.60 All those actions have contributed directly to the implementation of multiple mechanisms to justify the DPRK’s possession of nuclear weapons. Building higher walls around the DPRK has reinforced the legitimacy of the regime and the juche ideology. Once the North Korean people are isolated, the current regime can easily maintain norms and ways of thinking that are favourable to it, and and also create new ones.

On 17 October 2015, U.S. President Barack Obama attempted to re-start the negotiations and engage in a dialogue with the PDRK. The pre-condition for resuming negotiations was that the DPRK denuclearize.61 However, the regime viewed foreign countries’ insistence upon denuclearization as a threat to its security, which reinforced its feeling that it could not give up its nuclear weapons.62 If the international community wants to negotiate productively with the current North Korean regime, it has no choice but to modify the pre-condition it had imposed, and accept at the outset that the DPRK has nuclear capability. Otherwise, any new negotiations will be doomed to failure.

KCNA (North Korean Central News Agency)/Reuters RTX2HQYZ

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un reacts during a test launch of a ground-to-ground medium long-range ballistic missile Hwasong-10.


  1. For example, Scott Snyder, “North Korea’s Challenge of Regime Survival: Internal Problems and Implications for the Future,” in Pacific Affairs, Vol. 73, No. 4, Winter 2000–2001, pp. 517–533; Mark Fitzpatrick, “North Korea: Is Regime Change the Answer?” in Survival: Global Politics and Strategy, Vol. 55, No. 3, 2013, pp. 7–20.
  2. See, in particular, Richard Scott, Institutions and Organisations: Ideas, interests and identities (Los Angeles: Sage, 2014).
  3. Wikipedia, “Juche,” last modified on 16 January 2016, at
  4. Yong Soo Park, “Policies and Ideologies of the Kim Jong-un Regime in North Korea: Theoretical Implications,” in Asian Studies Review, Vol. 38, No. 1, 2014, p. 6.
  5. Grace Lee, “The Political Philosophy of Juche,” in Stanford Journal of East Asian Affairs, Vol. 3, No. 1, Spring 2003, p. 108.
  6. Ibid., p. 106.
  7. Ibid., p. 107.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid., p. 106.
  10. Ken Gause, “North Korean Civil–Military Trends: Military-First Politics to a Point,” in Strategic Studies Institute, Vol. 61, No. 1, September 2006, pp. 10, 11; Suk Hi Kim, “The Survival of North Korea: A Case for Rethinking the U.S.–North Korea Nuclear Standoff,” in North Korean Review, Vol. 11, No. 1, Spring 2015, pp. 105–106.
  11. Young Whan Kihl and Hong Nack Kim, North Korea: The Politics of Regime Survival (New York: M.E. Sharp, 2006), pp. 63–67.
  12. Dae-Kyu Yoon, “The Constitution of North Korea: Its Changes and Implications,” in Fordham International Law Journal, Vol. 27, No. 4, article 2, 2003, p. 1301.
  13. Digithèque de matériaux juridiques et politiques, “République populaire démocratique de Corée,” article 61 of the 1998 Constitution, at
  14. Jihwan Hwang, “Getting Out of the Military-First Dilemmas: In Search of North Korea’s Coevolution Military Strategy,” pp. 6–7.
  15. Han S. Park, Military-First Politics (Songun): Understanding Kim Jong-il’s North Korea, Korea Economic Institute, Academic Paper Series, September 2007, Vol. 2, No. 7, p. 6. As the authors will show later in this article, North Korea developed a market allowing it to sell weapons technologies to other countries illegally.
  16. Dick K. Nanto and Emma Chanlett-Avery, “North Korea: Economic Leverage and Policy Analysis,” Congressional Research Service, 22 January 2010, p. 21. According to some estimates, between 15% and 25% of North Korea’s GDP is dedicated to military spending.
  17. Daniel Byman and Jennifer Lind, “Pyongyang’s Survival Strategy: Tools of Authoritarian Control in North Korea,” in International Security, Vol. 35, No. 1, 2010, pp. 62–63.
  18. Jihwan Hwang, “Getting Out of the Military-First Dilemmas: In Search of North Korea’s Coevolution Military Strategy,” pp. 6–7.
  19. Han S. Park, Military-First Politics (Songun): Understanding Kim Jong-il’s North Korea, p. 2.
  20. Tak Sung Han and Jeon Kyung Joo, “Can North Korea Catch Two Rabbits at Once: Nuke and Economy? One Year of the Byungjin Line in North Korea and Its Future,” in The Korean Journal of Defense Analysis, Vol. 26, No. 2, June 2014, pp. 134–136.
  21. Ibid., p. 138.
  22. Cheon Seong-Whun, “The Kim Jong-un Regime’s ‘Byungjin’ (Parallel Development) Policy of Economy and Nuclear Weapons and the ‘April 1st Nuclearization Law’,” Online Series, 23 April 2013, p. 2, at­parallel-development.
  23. Matthew McGrath and Daniel Wertz, “North Korea Ballistic Missile Program,” Issue Brief: The National Committee on North Korea, January 2016, pp. 5–6.
  24. Ibid., p. 2.
  25. Grace Lee, p. 108; Adam Volle, “Behind the Myth: The Many Invasions of Korea,” in Guangju News, December 2013, p. 11.
  26. Hong-Pyo Hong, “North Korea’s Strategic Culture and Threat Perception: Implication for Regional Security Cooperation,”in Korea Observer, Vol. 42, No. 1, Spring 2011, p. 100.
  27. Christopher LaRoche, “Negotiating with the Hermit Kingdom: Frames and References in the Korean Nuclear Dilemma,” Master’s thesis, Dalhousie University, 2006, p. 32.
  28. Grace Lee, p. 106.
  29. Christopher LaRoche, “Negotiating with the Hermit Kingdom…,” p. 31.
  30. Tom Dixon, “Assessing the Success of Self-Reliance,” E-International Relations (7 August 2011), p. 11, accessed on 23 February 2016, available online at
  31. Ibid., p. 7.
  32. Mun-Woong Lee, Rural North Korea under Communism: A study of socio-cultural change, Ph.D. thesis, Department of Anthropology, Rice University, Houston, 1975.
  33. Emma Chanlett-Avery et al., “North Korea: U.S. Relations, Nuclear Diplomacy, and Internal Situation,” Congressional Research Service, 21 July 2015, p. 3.
  34. Haboush, Jahyun Kim, “Filial Emotions and Filial Values: Changing Patterns in the Discourse of Filiality in Late Chosǒn Korea,” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, vol. 55, no. 1, June 1995, pp. 129–177.
  35. Daniel Byman and Jennifer Lind, “Pyongyang’s Survival Strategy: Tools of Authoritarian Control in North Korea,” pp. 58–60. The North Korean selectorate is an elite group whose estimated numbers vary between 200 and 5,000, depending on how one defines the Supreme Leader’s closed circle. This group may include military leaders, party members and senior government officials.
  36. Daniel Byman and Jennifer Lind, “Pyongyang’s Survival Strategy: Tools of Authoritarian Control in North Korea,” p. 59. The rewards distributed to these elites may be both economic and political and are linked to their influential positions in the government.
  37. Seong-Chang Cheong, “La succession du pouvoir en Corée du Nord et ses implications sur la politique extérieure du pays,” Hérodote, no. 141, 2nd quarter, 2011, p. 68, Some South Korean NGOs have used helium balloons to deliver leaflets encouraging the people of North Korea to revolt.
  38. Andray Abrahamian, The ABC of North Korea’s SEZs, US–Korea Institute at SAIS, 2014, p. 9. The Rajin-Sonbong special economic zone (known as Rason) was the first one created in North Korea, in 1991, following a visit by Kim Il-sung to China. The economic zones allow markets to open up a bit, as foreign companies are allowed to do business there.
  39. Stephan Haggard and Marcus Noland, “Trends: North Korea,” from Milken Institute Review, January 2013, p. 10.
  40. Marianne Péron-Doise, “La Corée du Nord en 2005: décomposition ou ultimes métamorphoses?” in La revue internationale et stratégique, No. 57, Spring 2005, p. 49, at
  41. Ibid., p. 12.
  42. Ahn Mun Suk, “What Is the Root Cause of the North Korean Nuclear Program?” in Asian Affairs: An American Review, Vol. 38, no. 4, 2011, p. 175.
  43. Benjamin Habib, “North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme and the maintenance of the Songun system,” The Pacific Review, vol. 24, No. 1, March 2011, p. 47.
  44. Ignacio J. Garcia Sanchez, “Six Key Factors to Understand the Crisis in The Korean Peninsula,” in Instituto Español de Estudios Estratégicos, April 2013, p. 8.
  45. Andrew Scobell, “Making Sense of North Korea: Pyongyang and Comparative Communism,” in Asian Security, Vol. 1, No. 3, 2005, p. 252.
  46. Jihwan Hwang, “Weaker States, Risk-Taking, and Foreign Policy: Rethinking North Korea’s Nuclear Policy, 1989-2005,” Ph.D. thesis, University of Colorado, 2005, p. 157.
  47. Kang Choi, “The North Korean Nuclear Problem: Twenty Years of Crisis,” in Asia Policy, Vol. 19, No. 1, January 2015, p. 30.
  48. Bennett Ramberg, “Living with Nuclear North Korea,” in IISS Survival: Global Politics and Strategy, Vol. 51, No. 4, 2009, p. 14.
  49. Daniel Byman and Jennifer Lind, “Pyongyang’s survival strategy: Tools of authoritarian control in North Korea,” pp. 44–74.
  50. Jihwan Hwang, “Weaker States, Risk-Taking, and Foreign Policy: Rethinking North Korea’s Nuclear Policy, 1989–2005,” p. 164.
  51. Mark Fitzpatrick, “North Korea: Is Regime Change the Answer?” in Survival, Vol. 55, No. 3, 2013, p. 8.
  52. Benjamin Habib, “North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme…,” p. 48.
  53. Ahn Mun Suk, “What Is the Root Cause of the North Korean Nuclear Program?” pp. 181–182.
  54. Benjamin Habib, “North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme…,” p. 47.
  55. Yung Soo Park, “Policies and Ideologies of the Kim Jong-un Regime in North Korea,” p. 8; Ahn Mun Suk, “What Is the Root Cause of the North Korean Nuclear Program?” p. 179; Scobell, “Making Sense of North Korea: Pyongyang and Comparative Communism,” p. 245; Suk Hi Kim, “The Survival of North Korea: A Case for Rethinking the U.S.–North Korea Nuclear Standoff,” p. 105.
  56. Cheon Seong-Whun, “The Kim Jong-un Regime’s ‘Byungjin’ (Parallel Development)…,” p. s3.
  57. La, “Kim Jong-un justifie l’essai nucléaire, démonstration de force des É.-U.,” consulted on 16 January 2016, at
  58. La, “Essai de bombe H: l’ONU menace Pyongyang de sanctions,” consulted on 16 January 2016,
  59. La, “Essai nucléaire nord-coréen: Séoul veut des sanctions sévères,” consulted on 16 January 2016,
  60. La “La Chambre renforce des sanctions contre la Corée du Nord,” consulted 16 January 2016,
  61. La, “La Corée du Nord refuse toute discussion sur son programme nucléaire,” consulted on 16 January 2016,
  62. Suk Hi Kim, “The Survival of North Korea: A Case for Rethinking the U.S.–North Korea Nuclear Standoff,” p. 106.