North Korea and Nuclear Power

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“Trump Meets Kim Jong-un This Week. There’ll Be One Winner”, reads a New York Times article published on February 25, 2019. Ever since North Korea became a state it has had a tense relationship with the United States along with many other democratic nations. No American president had ever met with the leader of North Korea until the Trump presidency. The nature of Trump and Jong-un’s upcoming meeting is primarily to discuss North Korea’s nuclear capabilities. The United States wants North Korea to dismantle its nuclear programs while North Korea seeks to keep its nuclear power and dissolve international sanctions that could damage their economy and by extension, their military power. Why is North Korea so insistent on being a nuclear power? Why did the nation launch its first successful nuclear test in 2006 in the first place? The political theories neorealism and constructivism can provide explanations.

Neorealism or structural theory was primarily constructed by the political scientist Kenneth Waltz and discussed in his 1979 book, Theory of International Politics. The Greek prefix “neo” means new and this is fitting because neorealism holds many of the basic assumptions of realism with just a few adjustments. For instance, realism asserts that the underlying agent of international conflict is human nature while neorealism believes the driving force is anarchy. What’s more, neorealism takes a more scientific approach to world politics while realism relies more on subjective approaches.

However, like realism, neorealism focuses on the importance of relative gains while negating the other types such as mutual and absolute gains. Neorealism asserts three main points: anarchy urges states to compete, military capacity determines state power, and bi-polarity is the means by which the world can find stability. Neorealism believes that hard, military power is more important than types of soft power such as economic power. It takes a bleak view of world politics through the assertion that the world is a place of self help rather than one filled with cooperation. Anarchy compels states to compete because there isn’t one all powerful leader that forces nations to benevolent. Worldwide power and influence is there for those with the ability to claim it.

Constructivism is a theory that focuses heavily on how societal normalities impact the way people see the material world. One can not make sense of it with objective understandings alone. In particular, it asserts that intersubjective understandings are as strong as physical agents. When these understandings change constructivism upholds that “reality” will change as well because reality is in fact rooted in the beliefs that groups of people hold to be true rather than the way scenes physically are.

These understandings are born through “constitutive rules” which create the atmosphere of worldwide structures, for example sovereignty is the main constitutive rule which allowed for the state structure to take hold. Furthermore, regulative rules are informal norms which influence the way scenarios play out once they’ve been created by constitutive rules. If constitutive rules change the nature of society changes because society is built on constitutive rules and everyone has to believe in these rules for them to be relevant. Another element of constructivism is that it affects how anarchy differs among states.

The nature of anarchy is affected by the identities, interests, and socialization of states. There are three classifications of anarchy: Hobbesian, Lockean, and Kantian. Hobbesian anarchy holds states are enemies, interaction is violent, and everyone is for themselves. The Lockean view is more moderate with states being neither enemies nor friends, but rivals that practice self help and have cautious interactions. The last view, Kantian, is the most optimistic approach that states are cooperative friends and diplomacy can resolve conflict.

Neorealism explains that North Korea delved into nuclear power because military power is most important in determining the strength of a nation. North Korea has been building up nuclear capabilities while ignoring other forms of power such as economic or cultural power. North Korea’s GDP is very low, in fact the country’s average GDP per capita in 2014 was $1,800 while the worldwide average GDP per capita was reported to be $16,900 in 2016. The nation allocates over 20% of its GDP to military spending while over 40% of North Korean citizens are estimated to be malnourished and many suffer blackouts. North Korea has failed to influence popular culture as well given that it doesn’t allow its people to have their own independent media, or access the internet. The typical civilian only has access to 28 pre-approved government websites. The people live in fear of government threat as well with minor offenses sending citizens off to labor camps.

The nation has felt the need to have a strong military because it has enemies; namely the United States which has nuclear weapons and South Korea which shares a border with North Korea. By amassing nuclear weaponry North Korea shows its enemies it can’t easily be invaded and it can’t be attacked without creating nuclear war. The nation has felt such measures have been necessary because for the past 70 years the United States has had a military presence in South Korea, right now 28,500 American troops reside there. The United States and South Korea have had a friendly relationship since the 50s; American troops are there to keep an eye on North Korea.

Furthermore, this event fits with neorealism because it displays that bi-polarity is how the world can find stability. Arugably had North Korea not developed nuclear power the United States or South Korea would have attacked or invaded North Korea by now. With this argument, North Korea going through nuclearization has made the world more stable through the avoidance of a violent conflict.

This world event aligns with constructivism because North Korea depicts the Hobbesian World detailed in the classification of state anarchy. The Hobbesian world applies because North Korea has attempted to portray itself as powerfully as possible showing that it sees other countries as enemies. Becoming a nuclear power shows that North Korea views itself as a fighter. The state wanted to become a nuclear power North Korea has many enemies and it doesn’t have any strong, loyal allies.

In the past it has had a somewhat amicable relationship with China, but in the past couple years China has referred to North Korea’s nuclear capabilities as “unacceptable” and they have ceased importing North Korean coal. The interactions this state has with other nations is one that lacks cooperation and usually revolves around threats of nuclear annihilation. Ever since North Korea attained nuclear weaponry it has been making nuclear threats to its enemies, particularly the USA. In 2017 North Korea stated that its new missiles can reach the United States. These actions display North Korea believes that its international relations should revolve around threats and displays of power rather than diplomacy.

Although each theory offers an explanation for why North Korea first started delving into nuclear power, neorealism is most effective in its reasoning. It accounts for why North Korea felt the need to delve this weaponry, while the Hobbesian world idea of constructivism merely states that this type of behavior makes sense without delving into why. Neorealism can also account for why North Korean wanted to built up military, “hard” power as opposed to other forms of “soft” power.

The nature of the meetings between Trump and Kim Jong-un are bleak. One might argue the fact that these meetings are happening at all might suggest a more diplomatic state of relations between the two nations could be possible in the future. However, based on the neorealistic view of the situation cooperation seems difficult and overly optimistic.

Cite this paper

North Korea and Nuclear Power. (2021, Apr 18). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/north-korea-and-nuclear-power/

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