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«A Thesis Presented to the Faculty of California State University, Chico In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree Master of Arts in ...»

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A Thesis


to the Faculty of

California State University, Chico


In Partial Fulfillment

of the Requirements for the Degree

Master of Arts


Political Science



©Bradley W. Bourdon 2012

Spring 2012


A Thesis


Bradley W. Bourdon Spring 2012




Eun K. Park, Ph.D.


_________________________________ _________________________________

Matthew O. Thomas, Ph.D. James Jacob, Ph.D., Chair Graduate Coordinator _________________________________

Paul Viotti, Ph.D.


I would like to thank several people as this project comes to an end. First, I would like to thank my parents, John and Sandy. They have always been entirely supportive of all my endeavors, no matter how crazy. Without their unconditional love and reinforcement, I would not be the man I am today. I would also like to thank my oldest friend Mary Tchamkina for her insight, wisdom, ability to put things in perspective, and always having the uncanny talent of providing the perfect pep-talk for me whenever I need it. I am also thankful to Bill Myers, Ph.D. of the University of Alaska Anchorage for providing me with a top-notch undergraduate educational experience that more than adequately prepared me for the rigors of graduate school. I also want to thank James Jacob Ph.D. for his belief and trust in me and for being such an inspirational figure. I am honored for the privilege to be his teaching assistant. I would also like to thank Paul Viotti Ph.D. for being on my thesis committee and helping me think more outside the box. And lastly, I would like to thank whoever is reading this thesis right now.



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CHAPTER I. Introduction

II. Literature Review

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Kim Il-sung

Juche Philosophy

Consolidation of Government

Kim Jong-il

Kim Jong-un

Outlook for the Future

IV. Visionary Reunification

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In this thesis, an attempt will be made to anticipate the future of North Korea in the 21st century. North Korea faces staggering difficulties that may result in the continuing weakening of the country and even the collapse of the Kim regime. North Korea is a unique country like no other. Its government system is based on a cult of personality and a military-first mindset. It is an impoverished nation that relies on foreign aid, primarily from China and the United States, to sustain itself. It has a nuclear program and has one of the largest standing armies in the world. However, North Korea faces many problems and it has inherent weaknesses that will be ever more so pronounced in the 21st century. This thesis will start with a literature review aimed at surveying the contemporary issues facing North Korea. Next, the three most significant elements threatening North Korea‘s viability will be examined. First, the leadership of North Korea is inherently defective and the cult of personality is unsustainable. The government

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extremely unlikely. South Korea has too much at stake, the two political and cultural identities of the countries are divergent, and North Korea‘s vision of reunification is vastly different from that of South Korea, China, and the United States vision. And last, North Korea relies on China for political and material support. However, China‘s political and cultural ideology is changing and China is adopting elements of postmodernism. Throughout the 1990‘s and 2000‘s, China has shown an increasing reluctance to support North Korea, and this trend will continue in the 21st century. All of these factors will hobble North Korea‘s development and hasten the demise of the Kim regime.

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In the heart of North Korea‘s capital Pyongyang stands a commanding, enormous, and undeniably impressive pyramid. Standing at over 1,000 feet and with over 100 floors, the Ryugyong Hotel sternly dominates the city‘s skyline. Bold and ambitious, Kim Il-sung imagined the Ryugyong Hotel to be a definitive statement on the resolve of North Korea, and an architectural marvel for the rest of the world. Its aggressive architectural design and unavoidable size visually imposes itself onto all the citizens of Pyongyang.

However, behind its glass façade lays a dormant shell of a building that is structurally unsound. Moreover, ―even by Communist standards, the 3,000-room hotel is hideously ugly‖ and it ―isn‘t just the worst designed building in the world – it‘s the worst built building, too‖ (Hagberg 2008). Built with inferior concrete and with major construction flaws such as crooked (and therefore unusable) elevator shafts, the Ryugyong hotel is fundamentally damaged. Although construction started in 1987, once the Soviet Union collapsed, North Korea was unable to continue construction and therefore for over two decades the hotel stood as an empty concrete shell. Recently, a foreign investor accepted the task to finish the hotel‘s exterior so it could fully masquerade as a successful construction project and therefore hide the truth of its existence. The Ryugyong hotel stands as a metaphor for North Korea itself.

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suggest that North Korea is indeed on a path towards its own assured demise, primarily because of the Kim regime‘s inability to maintain power. Internal, rather than external, forces will most likely weaken the North Korean government to the point where the Kim regime will be rendered ineffective. Its current government system is arguably inherently flawed and unsustainable. Additionally, North Korea is becoming more and more isolated. By reviewing the intricacies of the Kim regime, the impossibilities of reunification, and China‘s apparent abandonment of North Korea, this thesis will cover the main reasons why the Kim regime will face potentially insurmountable challenges in the 21st century, and how the future of North Korea‘s success lies in the balance.

The North Korean government is one of the most oppressive in the world and it invades every facet of life for its citizens. Under the guise of a cult of personality, North Korea‘s propaganda machine paints a very unrealistic picture of the Kim regime.

Almost solely relying on false appearances and postures, North Korea is far weaker than it suggests to both its own citizens as well as to the rest of the world. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, North Korea has been unable to move forward and progress in any noteworthy capacity.

North Korea is on a trajectory that suggests it is headed towards failure. The cult of personality and political philosophy of juche, invented by North Korea‘s first leader Kim Il-sung, are not sustainable practices that will ensure longevity. Juche philosophy asserts political independence, economic self-reliance, and isolationist

–  –  –

regime is extremely vulnerable to pressures from the country‘s military.

Kim Il-sung‘s cult of personality and juche philosophy cemented his status and allowed him to rule with little to no opposition, but his political vision was shortsighted.

Kim Jong-un, thrust into power in the wake of his father‘s death, does not apparently possess the wherewithal or political savvy his father and grandfather had. Furthermore, Kim Jong-il‘s erratic ruling style and personal life have weakened the foundation on which Kim Jong-un stands.

The Kim regime will most likely collapse or at least rendered ineffective and instead government may be usurped by military officials. If anything, it will eventually become little more than a figurehead to keep the citizens of North Korea brainwashed, rather than actual leadership. At the same time, however, North Korea‘s government will grow weak because it historically relies upon and needs strong central leadership to guide the policies of the country. As the Kim regime and its friends struggle for control over the government with the military elites, effective governance of the country will most likely decline and, at best, the government may end up with a tenuous hold on Pyongyang and military outposts only.

Aside from the impending leadership disaster, there are several other factors that can potentially lead North Korea to ruins. Since the end of the Korean War, both North and South Korea have publicly longed for reunification of the Korean Peninsula even though they are still technically at war. While both countries pay lip service to the

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occurred, that time has come and gone. Reunification is an optimistically favorable way of solving the North Korea problem, but it will not happen for various reasons.

The foreign policy of South Korea toward North Korea from 2000 to 2010, called the Sunshine Policy, was arguably the most generous proposition ever offered to North Korea by any state. Yet, North Korea subverted South Korea‘s generous offer and instead pursued nuclear weapons. That is but one example that illustrates North Korea‘s desire to antagonize and aggravate its neighbor in the South instead of conducting meaningful diplomacy that would reduce tension in the region.

The rift between South Korea is massive and growing wider as each day goes by. South Korea has culturally moved on from the Korean War and has accepted a divided Korean peninsula. New generations of South Koreans are more interested in the economic and political development of their country. Modern South Koreans tolerate, rather than placate, North Korea. As South Korea‘s economy continues to burgeon and expand, its economic interests affect its culture as well into one that values education and consumerism.

On a practical and logistical level, South Korea would face economic ruin if it adopted North Korea. There plainly is no appetite for South Korea to adopt its Northern neighbor; the costs would be far too high. South Korea is too far advanced economically to realistically assume the burden of the impoverished economy of North Korea.

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Moreover, North Korea‘s vision of reunification is vastly different from that of South Korea‘s. Because of North Korea‘s political and cultural identity, no option but its own is entertained when it comes to the discussion of reunification. North Korea would rather create a confederation and use it to exploit South Korea, or require that South Korea adopt juche philosophy and recognize the Kim regime as the only legitimate source of leadership. Both of these scenarios are far-fetched and unrealistic, and it is entirely plausible that North Korean leadership knows this and uses its fanciful approach to reunification as a permanent wedge to keep the two Koreas separate.

Finally, the last major problem that North Korea will face is China‘s waning support for the isolated country. At the end of the Korean War, China wrongfully thought North Korea would have a similar government structure and be a useful and collaborating ally that would form an enduring bond that would offset the balance of power away from South Korea and the United States. Instead, China became the reluctant headmaster tasked with the sole responsibility of being the caretaker major ally for troublesome North Korea.

As if that unwanted avocation was not enough of a problem, the collapse of the Soviet Union pressed China into making various reforms that would damage the positive aspects of its relationship with North Korea. The demise of the Soviet Union pressed China onto a path that welcomes elements of postmodernism, and it has left behind many

–  –  –

North Korea and China. China‘s reforms and growths allow it to be a more legitimate player on the world stage; it no longer needs an alliance or strong relationship with North Korea.

North Korea is also poisoning the well with China by pursuing nuclear weapons. North Korea has proven itself to be belligerent when it comes to sacrificing long term stability for what are in reality short term self-serving goals such as nuclear weapons. North Korea‘s erratic behavior, especially under the rule of Kim Jong-il increased tension between China and itself, to the point where Chinese officials under their breath have expressed pure exasperation and contempt for North Korea.

This thesis will cover and explore all of the aforementioned topics: the weakness of the Kim regime and its government system, the impossibility of reunification with South Korea, and China‘s distancing itself from North Korea. Each topic exists as a major factor in North Korea‘s potential demise. Alone, each element can be survived by North Korea. But collectively, North Korea does not appear to have the strength to resist buckling under the weight of difficulties it is burdening. Each chapter will hopefully explain why each element acts as a contributor to North Korea‘s and the

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The hermit nation of North Korea, simply by virtue of its isolation and aura of mystery, surely invokes much interest and speculation. Singular, unpredictable, and enigmatic, it compels people around the world, not just Northeast Asia, to ponder what type of end-game North Korea is playing. For over 20 years, many have predicted the country is on the perpetual edge of instant collapse, yet others have noted how the country manages to persist. Much has been written about North Korea and relevant literature insomuch as the topic of this thesis will be observed in this section.

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