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Assessing North Korean Nuclear Intentions and Capacities: A New Approach
August 31, 2008
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Jacques E. C. Hymans
comparative foreign policy, DPRK (North Korea), national identity conceptions, neopatrimonialism, nuclear proliferation, regime type and state structure, sultanistic regimes, threat assessment
This article develops a novel assessment of the nuclear program of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. Using a theory-driven approach rooted in comparative foreign policy analysis, the article undermines two common assumptions about the DPRK nuclear threat: first, that the North Korean leadership's nuclear intentions are a measured response to the external environment and, second, that the DPRK has developed enough technical capacity to go nuclear whenever it pleases. In place of these assumptions, the article puts forth the general theoretical hypotheses that (1) the decision to go nuclear is rarely if ever based on typical cost-benefit analyusis, and instead reflects deep-seated national identity conceptions, and (2) the capacity to go nuclear depends not only on raw levels of industrialization and nuclear technology, but also on the state's organizational acumen. Applied to the case of the DPRK, these hypotheses suggest that it has long been strongly committed to the goal of acquiring an operational nuclear deterrent, but also that it has been finding it very difficult to successfully implement that wish. The article also demonstrates that these hypotheses are supported by the meager evidence available on this case.
Author(s) Bio
Jacques E. C. Hymans is assistant professor of government at Smith College, moving to the University of Southern California School of International Relations in June 2008. His book, The Psychology of Nuclear Proliferation: Identity, Emotions, and Foreign Policy (2006) won the 2007 Edgar S. Furniss Award for Best First Book in Internatinal Security Studies from the Mershon Center at Ohio State University and the 2007 Alexander L. George Award for Best Book in Political Psychology from the International Society of Political Psychology.

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