Recently the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) under the leadership of Kim Jong-Il has been pursuing nuclear weapons with renewed vigour. The DPRK is a country with severe development challenges which initially makes the pursuit of nuclear weapons in the face of international censure appear illogical. However, looking at the nuclear decision making process of the DPRK, and hence Kim Jong-Il in his role as supreme leader, a logical explanation can be identified. By understanding the relationship between the political elite and the military elite it becomes evident that this co-dependent relationship is the core reason behind the DPRK’s drive towards nuclear armament. This is in stark contrast to current reasoning that holds that external pressures are motivating the drive towards nuclear weapons. In particular most analysis of why developing states seek nuclear weapons is grounded in the assumption that internal pressures are generally not the primary reason for nuclear weapons development. This is an assumption that does not hold up in the realities of the DPRK’s situation. The ‘military first’ policy (Songun) established in 1998 is a key factor. The survival of the Kim Jong-Il regime in now intrinsically linked with the pre-eminence and survival of the military elite in the Korean People’s Army. This co-dependent relationship has underpinned the push towards the DPRK becoming a nuclear armed state by the development of a reciprocal arrangement linking military support for the regime to the executive support for nuclear armament.
Faulkner, G. (2010). Method to the madness - why North Korea wants the bomb. Paper presented at the Australian Political Studies Association Conference.