- NBR - The National Bureau of Asian Research

The Two Koreas: Making Grand Strategy amid Changing Domestic Politics

Samuel S. Kim


This chapter explores the post–Cold War grand strategies of South Korea and North Korea with emphasis on the effects of external factors on domestic politics, the impact of domestic politics on grand strategies, and the policy implications for Northeast Asia in general and the U.S. in particular.

Main Argument:

Despite their historical "shrimp among whales" identity, both Koreas have found new opportunities to take strategic initiatives that would not have been possible during the Cold War. South Korea is now a pivotal player in Northeast Asian economics, security, and culture, while North Korea has pursued a survival-centered strategy well despite increasing challenges on both domestic and external fronts. Upcoming leadership changes within both countries and the growing influence of domestic political forces on strategy formation suggest the Koreas’ strategic trajectories in the next five years will continue to evolve.

Policy Implications:

  • If the six-party process is allowed to continue, then there may be scope for Seoul’s two-legged grand strategy of globalization and engagement with the North to continue.
  • If the U.S. continues to view North Korea through a Manichean lens and the sanctions regime continues, then Pyongyang could accelerate its survival tactics or even step up its nuclear program.
  • If the U.S. cooperates with Beijing, Seoul, Tokyo, and Moscow to address the issue of common security, then the chances for long-term stability on the Korean Peninsula will be increased.