North Korea has recently shown signs of rapprochement with the outside world by agreeing to the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula at the six-party talks. The changing dynamics of the North Korean system can be explained by changes in the interplay among interacting key actors in North Korea and the structure in which the key actors are arranged or positioned. The structure defined by the arrangement of its actors could be explained by the rules and resources. And the structure could be divided into two kinds: domestic and external (Waltz 1979, chapters 3 and 5).
One salient characteristic of the changing dynamics of the North Korean system is that the challenges of the times have exerted a decisive influence on the changing dynamics of the North Korean system, particularly since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the East European socialist states and the unification of Germany. For the strengthening of national security and the achievement of economic development in an effort to meet the challenges of the times, the North Korean system has had to accommodate changes in the arrangement of the key actors in terms of power, official ideologies, and policy choices, which has brought about the dynamics of change in the system itself. The changes in the North Korean system and structure have produced changes in the key actors’ behaviors and performances because the system or systemic effects have constrained the actors.
During the past 15 years or so, the North Korean leadership has made four critical choices to meet the challenges of the times, choices that reveal the changing dynamics of the North Korean system. I will first review North Korea’s four critical choices in order to provide an overview and identify clues to the changing dynamics of the North Korean system. After this, I will deal with the changing arrangements among the party, the state, and the military in order to identify which actors played what key roles in meeting what challenges of the times, particularly national security, system security, and economic recovery and development. This will lead to a discussion of North Korea’s effort to achieve security and economic reform and identify North Korea’s changing policy priorities as it has tried to meet the challenges of the times. Finally, the North Korean system today, which is the product of all of the above dynamics, will be described as “overloaded” and “secularized”; and the prospects for the North Korean system and its implications will be discussed.