As an ethnic South Korean, I have always longed for the reunification of the two Koreas into a single nation so that Koreans like me can finally proclaim a collective, unified national pride. Yet one of the most troublesome obstacles to this goal is the political isolation of North Korea exacerbated by its nuclear weapons program. I, therefore, decided to use this program as an opportunity to further study North Korea’s nuclear ambitions and potentially identify an ideal approach to dealing with the nuclear threat. In line with this goal, my paper will explore how Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush’s differing theoretical perspectives of North Korea as a state had on their administrations’ efforts to contain the country’s nuclear proliferation efforts. My hope is that a comparative analysis of each administration’s approach will expose different levels of success each President had, shedding light on how North Korea views itself vis-à-vis the world and its implications for the country’s diplomatic behavior.
Thankfully, I am not going into this research blind since I have had some past experience researching North Korea, from its nuclear weapons to its cultural identity. During my junior year, I wrote my undergraduate thesis paper on how China’s economic growth since 1995 has affected U.S. prospects of achieving denuclearization in North Korea. The paper highlighted the importance of increasing interdependence between China and capitalist nations (e.g. the U.S., South Korea, and Japan) as a gradual yet promising approach to effectively gain China’s cooperation in pressuring North Korea to forfeit its nuclear ambitions. Also last year, I was funded by my university to initiate an independent research project exploring the cultural determinants of North Korean nuclear strategy. The commonly discussed reasons for North Korea’s nuclear proliferation have centered on state benefits, such as ensuring military deterrence and exchanging nuclear capabilities for humanitarian assistance. Although valid, these impetuses alone are insufficient in explaining the motivators behind North Korea’s nuclear strategy. My research aimed to provide a more comprehensive understanding of North Korea’s nuclear ambitions by exploring the cultural motivators for nuclear weapons.
Chan “Peter” Kim
University of Southern California