A short review on Pyongyang's foreign-policymaking process

Choi, Yong Sub
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Honolulu: East-West Center
Much research and analysis has been conducted to efficiently cope with North Korea since the first nuclear crisis on the Korean peninsular in the early 1990s. However, they paid little attention to North Korea's foreign policy-making process which can be conducive to unravel the mechanism of Pyongyang's brinkmanship. To explain Pyongyang's foreign policy-making process, a number of subjects are dealt with in this paper. First, organizations involved in North Korea's foreign policy are examined to show that the ministry of foreign affairs is the most powerful institution, but its autonomy is highly constrained. Here the role of the department of organization and direction is critical; the head of the department is Kim Jong Il himself and its far-reaching branches supervise and direct every meaningful political activity carried out in North Korea. Second, there are three approaches to the foreign policy-making process of North Korea: "expediency of Kim Jong Il," "top down," and "bottom up." In the first case, Kim makes direct phone calls and/or visits to relevant officials, and necessary measures are taken by his instructions on the spot. In the second case, Kim presents his ideas as policy agenda and officials of the ministry of foreign affairs set concrete measures for implementation of Kim's ideas and, after Kim's review, the ideas are conveyed as "guidelines" or "teachings" of the supreme leader. The third case begins with ideas provided by officials of the ministry, and then they are reviewed and proceed through the layers of bureaucracy in the ministry. After Kim's review, it becomes a policy and will be implemented at different levels. As Kim Jong Il controls all the approaches directly or indirectly, he can be referred to as the de facto sole policy maker of foreign affairs. Third, G. T. Allison's organization model can explain a number of distinctive features of the North Korean foreign policy-making process. In particular, the repertoires and procedures of the organization are closely directed by "the party's ten principles to establish the unitary system," "the party's covenant," and "the directions of the party." In diplomatic crisis, this delays the speed of response because they are primarily made for domestic stability and maintenance of dictatorship. The foreign policy-making process reflects the degree of dictatorship in North Korea. As long as the firm dictatorship by Kim Jong Il continues, provocative and rigid behaviors in the international arena will go on. By the same token, we cannot anticipate a progressive and flexible North Korean on the international stage, other than Kim Jong Il himself.
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