Tyranny of the Weak

Tyranny of the Weak: North Korea and the World, 1950–1992

Charles K. Armstrong
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    Tyranny of the Weak
    Book Description:

    To much of the world, North Korea is an impenetrable mystery, its inner workings unknown and its actions toward the outside unpredictable and frequently provocative. Tyranny of the Weak reveals for the first time the motivations, processes, and effects of North Korea's foreign relations during the Cold War era. Drawing on extensive research in the archives of North Korea's present and former communist allies, including the Soviet Union, China, and East Germany, Charles K. Armstrong tells in vivid detail how North Korea managed its alliances with fellow communist states, maintained a precarious independence in the Sino-Soviet split, attempted to reach out to the capitalist West and present itself as a model for Third World development, and confronted and engaged with its archenemies, the United States and South Korea.

    From the invasion that set off the Korean War in June 1950 to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Tyranny of the Weak shows how-despite its objective weakness-North Korea has managed for much of its history to deal with the outside world to its maximum advantage. Insisting on a path of "self-reliance" since the 1950s, North Korea has continually resisted pressure to change from enemies and allies alike. A worldview formed in the crucible of the Korean War and Cold War still maintains a powerful hold on North Korea in the twenty-first century, and understanding those historical forces is as urgent today as it was sixty years ago.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6894-0
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. 1-9)

    Certain places in the world act as fractures in the international system, points of contact between the tectonic plates of historical change that erupt periodically into conflicts that spread beyond the region to draw in the Great Powers, and which remain in constant tension even in times of relative peace. In modern Europe, the Balkans are one such place, where local and seemingly trivial disputes over territory and ethnicity triggered the First World War at the beginning of the twentieth century, and where the disintegrating state of Yugoslavia brought a more contained war to the continent at century’s end.¹ During...

  5. 1 THE UNFINISHED WAR, 1950–53
    (pp. 10-51)

    On June 25, 1950, in a predawn drizzle at the beginning of the rainy season, the Korean People’s Army (KPA) of North Korea attacked South Korean positions on the Ongjin Peninsula in the west with an artillery barrage and moved eastward across the Thirty-eighth parallel in a series of artillery and ground attacks.¹ By around 5:00 a.m., the KPA had taken the medieval Korean capital of Kaesŏng, just south of the Thirty-eighth parallel; shortly thereafter, a full-scale invasion force moved down the road toward Seoul, while other North Korean detachments invaded across the center of the peninsula and the East...

    (pp. 52-93)

    When the fighting stopped in the summer of 1953, the entire Korean Peninsula lay in utter ruin. South of the DMZ, the United States and its allies led an ambitious, well-funded effort to rehabilitate South Korea under the auspices of the United Nations Korea Reconstruction Agency (UNKRA).¹ North Korea, even more devastated than the South and suffering as well from a labor shortage caused by the population hemorrhage of the war, had far fewer resources with which to rebuild itself. Yet through a combination of tremendous work and sacrifice on the part of the North Korean people, generous economic and...

  7. 3 A SINGULAR PATH: North Korea in the Socialist Community, 1956–63
    (pp. 94-136)

    Khrushchev’s “secret” speech denouncing Stalin at the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in February 1956, widely disseminated to fellow Communist parties and leaked to the Western press, sent shock waves through the socialist world. Its effects on North Korea were ambiguous. At first, the de-Stalinization campaign in the USSR encouraged rumbles of dissatisfaction with Kim Il Sung’s paramount leadership in North Korea, particularly among those with close ties to the Soviet Union, but also from some of the “Yanan” group who were equally unhappy with the direction of Kim’s policies and the growing influence of...

  8. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
    (pp. 137-167)

    Pyongyang was not declared the capital of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea until the DPRK Constitution of 1972. For the first quarter-century of its existence, the North Korean government maintained the fiction that it presided over a unified nation whose capital was Seoul. According to this logic, the South was illegally occupied territory, and the North was a temporary “base area” pending a revolution that would unite the entire peninsula. This idea was first expressed in 1946 with the concept of North Korea as a “democratic base” (minju kiji): “In a country undergoing revolution, one area succeeds in revolution...

  10. 5 BREAKING OUT: Engaging the First and Third Worlds, 1972–79
    (pp. 168-207)

    The 1970s were a decade of unprecedented outward expansion for North Korea. Admission to several UN bodies, active lobbying at the UN General Assembly, a successful diplomatic offensive in the Third World, and new economic and political ties to advanced capitalist countries all reflected a new global presence for the DPRK. Long a partisan of the socialist side in the global Cold War, Kim Il Sung presented his country in this decade as “nonaligned,” and a model for postcolonial nation-building. North Korea broke out into the world in the 1970s, and in a sense, this breakout was its pursuit of...

    (pp. 208-242)

    In the late 1970s, Deng Xiaoping emerged as China’s supreme leader out of the succession struggles that had followed Mao Zedong’s death in 1976. Deng proceeded to take China on a path of economic modernization that would in time utterly transform the country. Twenty years earlier, Khrushchev had denounced his predecessor Stalin and instituted a liberalizing campaign in the USSR that would reverberate throughout the communist world. Kim Il Sung abhorred any such destabilizing changes in the DPRK. As the 1980s began, Kim’s eldest son Kim Jong Il was officially anointed successor to his father. This generational succession ensured that,...

  12. 7 THE SUN SETS IN THE EAST, 1985–92
    (pp. 243-281)

    When he first became secretary-general of the CPSU in March 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev showed no sign of taking Soviet-Korean relations on a new course, much less setting in motion the collapse of the entire Soviet empire. On the contrary, during Gorbachev’s first two years in office, Moscow-Pyongyang relations reached heights of cooperation and assistance not seen since the late 1950s. A joint Korea-Soviet communiqué signed in April 1985 envisioned a considerable expansion and deepening of the bilateral relationship.¹ On the economic front, the USSR stepped up technical assistance and trade on “friendship” (i.e., concessionary) terms. Following Premier Kang Sŏng-san’s visit...

    (pp. 282-294)

    The first post–Cold War decade was an unmitigated disaster for North Korea. Politically, the regime was isolated as never before. The Soviet Union was gone, and Boris Yeltin’s Russia turned its back on North Korea as it sought closer relations with South Korea. China appeared more balanced in its relations with the two Korean regimes, but its interests had become increasingly congruent with Seoul and divergent from Pyongyang. Diplomatically, North Korea soon found itself at odds with the United States and the International Atomic Energy Agency over its nuclear program; by the spring of 1993 disagreements had become acute,...

  14. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 295-302)
  15. Index
    (pp. 303-308)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 309-311)