Peace on the Korean peninsula has always been fragile, especially since the country was divided at the end of the Second World War. North Korea routinely issues threats against South Korea, Japan, and the United States, and has occasionally resorted to armed provocations. The country is hostile toward the United Nations and distrusts even its closest “friends,” China and Russia. Is there a simple explanation for this perpetual and comprehensive belligerence? Based on over 30 years of studying North Korea, Oh argues that while there is one principle explanation or pillar of North Korea’s conflict-prone behavior—the character of the Kim family dynasty—many other causes exist as well. On close inspection, North Korea is a well-organized dictatorship run by three generations of intelligent, skillful, and ruthless politicians. Failing to recognize how thoroughly the Kim family has brought the country under its thumb has often misled foreigners into believing that a simple initiative such as removing an external threat or engaging with the North Korean people can bring peace to the Korean peninsula. On a more optimistic note, Oh suggests that if the principle cause of North Korea’s destabilizing policies were to be eliminated, i.e. somehow ending Kim family rule, many of the other causes of North Korea’s destabilizing behavior would soon disappear as well.
Kongdan (Katy) Oh is a Senior Asia Specialist at the Institute for Defense Analyses. She was formerly a Non-Resident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution and a member of the Political Science Department of the RAND Corporation. She has taught courses at a number of universities, including the University of California, San Diego. She is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Board of Directors of the United States Committee of the Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia-Pacific, and she is the co-founder and former co-director of The Korea Club of Washington, D.C. She has authored, co-authored, and edited 8 books, published more than 30 research monographs, and numerous articles and book chapters. Her most recent book is The Hidden People of North Korea: Everyday Life in the Hermit Kingdom (2nd edition, April 2015). She is currently working on a manuscript of her 4th North Korea with her research partner, Ralph Hassig.