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North Korea's Strategy in 2018
Published August 3, 2018
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What does North Korea seek at a time of unprecedented sanctions and pressure against it and suddenly developing opportunity, as South Korea and four great powers explore diplomatic overtures? This set of four chapters completed at the height of anticipation for summits in 2018 approaches Pyongyang’s strategy from diverse angles: public relations—how it is striving to shape images of itself, beginning by taking advantage of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics; diplomacy—how it is engaging one state after another to forge an ideal diplomatic environment for securing maximum concessions; economy— how it is coping with sanctions and preparing to realize byungjin by boosting the economic side while deriving credit from the military side; and military—how it continues to develop threat capacities and prepare for contingencies. There is a lot that is unknown about what is driving Kim Jong-un’s behavior with some accentuating the strength achieved by building his threat capacity and others emphasizing the weakness exposed by draconian sanctions. These chapters explore the drivers behind his moves through the lens of strategic objectives, recognizing that the North Korean leader sees a mix of opportunities.

This volume covers well into the spring of 2018—including the New Year’s Day address by Kim Jong-un that opened the door to a public relations blitz, the delegations sent to South Korea to kick-start “smile diplomacy” against the backdrop of the Winter Olympic Games, the personal diplomacy by Kim with South Korean officials followed by his outreach to Donald Trump and then a hurried visit to Beijing to meet Xi Jinping, and finally the Panmunjom summit with Moon Jae-in in the last week of April. This whirlwind of public relations and diplomacy against diverse interpretations of their economic and military background captured the world’s attention. Yet, Kim’s strategic intentions largely remain a mystery. Does he expect to retain his missiles and nuclear weapons and be recognized as one of the nuclear powers on essentially equal footing with the world’s great military powers? Does he seek to cut a grand bargain, eliminating these threatening weapons in return for acceptance in the international community with guarantees of security and bountiful economic assistance? Is Kim Jong-un playing a multi-stage game with long-term objectives hidden as he capitalizes on differences among five countries to maneuver in ways still difficult to fathom? Much remains unknown, as we delve into his strategic choices.

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