The Driving Factor: Songun's Impact on North Korean Foreign Policy

By Patrick DeRochie

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) remains a source of instability in both East Asia and the international system. Although foreign policymakers focus on Kim Jong-il’s perception of external threats, the DPRK’s system of “military-first politics”, or songun, is the fundamental factor in explaining the regime’s aggression, nuclear weapons development, and intransigence. Songun has equated state survival with the continued primacy and indispensability of the military, and made the Kim regime dependent on international aid for survival. Songun plunges the regime into a self-perpetuating cycle in which the privileged position of the military requires the use of threats, aggression and nuclear brinksmanship to extort aid and concessions from regional players. The international largesse is then used to maintain the economically-unsustainable songun system itself. This paper situates American foreign policy toward the DPRK from the perspective that the maintenance of songun, not external threats, is the primary motivator for continued North Korean nuclear development.

About the author:
Patrick DeRochie completed a BA in history and political science at the University of Guelph in 2008. He attained an MA in international affairs at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, where he specialized in nuclear arms control and nonproliferation. Patrick interned at the Rideau Institute, a progressive foreign and defence policy think tank, and worked on Parliament Hill as a parliamentary committee monitor for the Alpheus Group. Since June 2010, he has worked as an evaluation officer at DFAIT in Ottawa.

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