The Formation of National Identity and Foreign Policy: A Case Study of North Korea

Jaesok Son, NORC at the University of Chicago

North Korea often appears very puzzling to outsiders. Its political system and culture are far different from international standards, and its international politics seems “irrational” so that it is acting against its own interests. This paper attempts to understand North Korea by examining how it views itself and how it constructs its own national identity. National identity defines national interests and “missions” that the country should strive toward while highlighting national aspects the people should take pride. National identity can thus make significant influence on government policies such as in foreign affairs. I illustrate this point by examining how national identity shaped foreign policies in North Korea: why North Korea demanded a peace treaty with the United States but a nonaggression treaty with South Korea. I show that North Korea’s great pride in national independence and a sense of superiority over South Korea in both ethnic and civic dimensions of national identity played an important role in formulating different demands when it dealt with these two countries. This does not mean, however, that national identity determines foreign policies. I analyze how they had to work on justifying their policies in consistence with their national identity. I also discuss how North Koreans maintained their national identity even when they shifted foreign policy. This paper suggests that national identity, once formed, can be used as a master frame that guides social actions in various domains.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 32. Foreign Relation and the Military in Nation Formation