North Korea, Leadership, and Institutions

The bellicose rhetoric of North Korea has been grabbing headlines over the past few weeks. What is the driving force behind North Korea’s actions? Andrew Kydd has argued in a blog post that

North Korea is motivated to provoke the South because its regime depends on maintaining a high level of external threat to justify its own existence and North Korea’s continued closure to the outside world.

This hostility-seeking is I think a right guess for North Korea’s behavior. This idea is related to the diversionary war theory, which played a part in the Falklands War for instance. Maybe Kim Jong-un is attempting to rally North Korea ‘around the Juche flag’. Although it is true that actual statistical evidence for the diversionary war theory is mixed.
Some of you have also been thinking about the impact of a new leader on conflict. Will H. Moore has posted thoughts related to this question. A question to consider is whether the international community can realize that new leaders can be more bellicose. Also maybe paranoia is not fully rational. Then an interesting question is whether it is related to length of rule. Stalin’s paranoia could have actually strengthened as time went by. Or maybe the fact that a sultanistic dictator is still in office after decades of misrule should lead outsiders to conclude with more and more certainty that the leader is paranoid as there would be no other way of staying in power? What would that say about international action toward new and old dictators? Lastly, how does institutional durability factor into this question? North Korea has been in existence since 1948, would Kim Il-sung face different incentives than Kim Jong-un just because of different years of regime existence?

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About politakos

Hello, my name is Akos. I am a Ph.D. student in the Political Economy and Government program at Harvard. I am originally from the world superpower called Hungary, which explains why I currently teach a sophomore tutorial on international security. More specifically, the tutorial is on game-theoretic models of war (econ 970-AL). The primary purpose of this blog is to share interesting links with my students that are connected to the material we are covering in class.
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