North Korea’s foreign policy towards the United States has been shaped by the bitter experience
of the Korean War and the DPRK’s position in the bipolar Cold War. The DPRK detested the
United States for having thwarted Kim Il Sung’s effort to unite Korea by military force, and for the
devastation unleashed by U.S. Air Force bombing campaigns during the war.14 North Korea
has utilized the war experience to indoctrinate the population with anti-Americanism and to justify
the state’s frequent warnings that a U.S. attack or invasion is imminent.15
During the Cold War, the DPRK was vehemently opposed to the United States, which was
depicted as the driving force behind imperialism and exploitive international capitalism. This view
was compounded by the Korean War experience and the deep resentment over Washington’s
intervention, which Pyongyang has considered as an obstruction of Korean unification. There was
little contact between the two countries during the Cold War, except for periodic clashes between
the two militaries in areas surrounding the DPRK.16 North Korea’s main foreign policy objective
towards the United States during this period was to split the U.S.-ROK alliance and to effect the
withdrawal of U.S. military forces in South Korea.17 To deter the United States from intervening
in Korea again, the DPRK established formal alliances with the Soviet Union and the People’s
Republic of China when North Korea signed “treaties of friendship, cooperation and mutual
assistance” with the two countries in July 1961.
Many American analysts and policymakers perceived North Korean relations with China and the
USSR to be close during the Cold War, but the relationships actually were quite volatile, which
caused Pyongyang to question the commitments of its alliance partners. Pyongyang’s doubts
about the credibility of its security alliances led the regime under Kim Il Sung to seek an
independent arms production capability as well as weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and
ballistic missiles. The collapse of the Soviet Union and China’s normalization of relations with
South Korea led Pyongyang to accelerate its nuclear weapons development program in the early
1990s and to reassess its security relationship with the outside world, particularly with
Washington and Tokyo.
For North Korea, the United States plays a critical role in Pyongyang’s efforts to achieve its
national objectives. U.S. cooperation is necessary to achieve both security and economic goals,
but Washington’s indifference or refusal to cooperate with Pyongyang has left North Koreans
frustrated and aggrieved. In the security realm, the DPRK since the early 1990s has sought
negative security assurance from the United States. The DPRK’s request has been reflected in a
number of written documents,18 but Pyongyang cites the 2002 Nuclear Posture Review,
economic sanctions, military exercises, President George W. Bush’s “axis of evil” reference in his
2002 State of the Union Address, in addition to other activities and statements as evidence that
the United States has a “hostile policy aimed at strangling the DPRK.”
Given North Korea’s weakness and threat perceptions, Pyongyang feels it has no choice but to
strengthen its military capabilities to deter the United States. The dilemma for the DPRK is that its
security policy towards the United States alienates Washington and decreases the likelihood of
mutual cooperation in the economic realm, which Pyongyang desperately is seeking to achieve
its economic objectives. The DPRK can never be secure with a hostile United States, but
Pyongyang feels it has very little or no control over Washington’s posture.
The contradiction in the DPRK’s policy towards the United States is that its security and economic
policies are irreconcilable. Pyongyang realizes that U.S. cooperation is necessary for the
successful implementation of economic reforms based on an outward economic orientation.
However, DPRK leaders seem to believe that Washington is intrinsically hostile, and that
Pyongyang’s security policy has no bearing on Washington’s “hostile policy.”
Pyongyang expected the 1994 Agreed Framework to change the overall nature of the U.S.-DPRK
bilateral relationship, but Washington viewed the agreement in much narrower terms—as a
mechanism to end North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. Dissatisfaction with the agreement’s
implementation reinforced those in Pyongyang who were skeptical of U.S. credibility, which
probably led to the DPRK hedging with a clandestine uranium enrichment program. The
disclosure of the uranium enrichment program in 2002, and the DPRK’s acknowledgment and
subsequent denial of such a program, have seriously damaged any credibility Pyongyang had in
Washington, making a negotiated diplomatic settlement to the North Korean nuclear issue
extremely difficult.
In sum, for as long as Kim Jong Il remains in power, North Korea likely will pursue a national
strategy based upon the concepts of s?n’gun ch?ngch’i and kangs?ngdaeguk. To achieve state
objectives under these ideologies, Pyongyang will have to seek conflicting and contradictory
goals in its relationship with the United States. In the security realm, the DPRK will seek the
capability to deter the United States, the termination of the U.S.-ROK alliance, and the withdrawal
of U.S. military forces in South Korea. Pyongyang will also continue to seek negative security
assurances in various forms, including a Korean War peace treaty, to serve its national objectives.
The paradox in North Korean policy towards the United States lies in the economic realm. In
contrast to Pyongyang’s ceaseless and shrill rhetoric against Washington regarding security
matters, the DPRK would like to improve bilateral relations in order to obtain U.S


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