Pyongyang’s nuclear strategy has been significantly shaped by the perceived U.S. nuclear threat since the early 1950s, portending a quest for a self-reliant existential nuclear deterrent for the DPRK. This article tracks and explains how Washington’s nuclear threat cast a long shadow that underpins the evolution of North Korea’s nuclear thinking and strategy over the years. North Korea’s nuclear strategy is being shaped as much if not more so in Washington than in Pyongyang. Just as importantly, the implementation process of major denuclearization agreements has seemed ready-made to be hijacked by war hawks in domestic politics in Washington. In pursuit of these lines of reasoning, the article proceeds in three sections. The first section appraises the interplay of Washington’s nuclear threats and Pyongyang’s songun (“military-first”) politics in the evolution of North Korea’s nuclear thinking and strategy over the years. The second section offers a critical analysis of the changing dynamics of domestic politics in the making and unmaking of key denuclearization accords in the course of the first and second U.S.-DPRK nuclear standoffs. The third section brings the common- security engagement back in charting an alternative pathway toward a working peace system in the Korean peninsula.


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pp. 49-85
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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