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North Korea’s Alliances and the Unfinished Korean War

From: Journal of Korean Studies
Volume 18, Number 2, Fall 2013
pp. 225-262 | 10.1353/jks.2013.0020



This article examines the Korean Armistice from the viewpoint of North Korea’s relations with the international Socialist system. The analysis focuses on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK)’s changing relationships with the Soviet Union and China, and also includes an assessment of North Korea’s diplomatic ties with Eastern Europe, a region often overlooked in studies of the DPRK’s international linkages. The article explores North Korea’s relationships with the Socialist alliance system between 1945 and the early 1970s in order to better comprehend long-term trends in the history of the system. The formation and evolution of the Sino-Soviet alliance and its role on the Korean peninsula was an arena for both cooperation and competition between the two Socialist powers. North Korea’s alliances played a critical role in helping the regime withstand the extended crisis caused by the Korean War. At the same time, tensions, which emerged in North Korea’s relations with its main allies during the Korean War, later evolved into more forceful efforts by the DPRK leadership to assert its autonomy in its bilateral and multilateral relationships with the Communist world. The article thus addresses the dynamics of the DPRK’s integration into, and divergence from, the Communist world, an important dimension of the regime’s foreign relations, which holds a key to understanding North Korea’s ability to sustain its social and political system.

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