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Biting the Land that Feeds You: North Korea and the United States in the Cold War and Beyond

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Throughout the Cold War, the United States struggled to understand the principles that underlay North Korean behavior in the international arena. In the post-Korean War years, American policymakers saw Pyongyang as simply a communist puppet, a servile pawn directed by Moscow and Peking. That framework was shattered when the Cold War ended but American officials still sought simplistic answers to explain DPRK behavior, usually concluding that their leaders were deranged, evil, and simply incomprehensible. However, newly released communist materials suggest that there is more than irrationality at work in Pyongyang. Instead, one can discern a basic pattern at the heart of DPRK policy, one that has internal developments at its core. Put simply, this interpretation suggests that North Korean behavior towards the West becomes more provocative when the nation is at its weakest in certain domestic areas, primarily economic development and political stability, and attributes this correlation to the dominant role of the ideology of juche (self-reliance) that virtually defines this society. Understanding this relationship between internal dynamics, ideological paradigms, and DPRK foreign relations would be a beneficial step in formulating policy towards North Korea; instead, however, American policymakers have clung to interpretations that, while easily comprehensible and politically appealing, have hindered their diplomatic efforts towards the nation since the 1950s.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: December 1, 2007

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