Date of Graduation

Spring 5-18-2019

Document Access

Project/Capstone - Global access

Degree Name

Master of Arts in Asia Pacific Studies (MAPS)


College of Arts and Sciences


Political Science

First Advisor

Brian Komei Dempster

Second Advisor

Dayna Barnes


North Korea has been the most isolated country on the planet for the past sixty years. Due to its isolation, the Hermit Kingdom has naturally become mysterious, resulting in a common narrative that describes Pyongyang as aggressive and driven by nuclear weapons. Missing from this narrative is what motivates North Korea and its young leader, Kim Jong-un: survival. However, Kim Jong-un has a lot more than the outside world to contend with, as the North Korea he has inherited is much different than that of his predecessors. In response, Kim Jong-un has subtly shifted away from the state ideology of self-reliance (juche) towards one of "simultaneous advancement" (byungjin), placing heavy emphasis on military defense and economic development.

To better understand this shift in Pyongyang policy under Kim Jong-un, my research asks: What is the motivation behind the Kim Jong-un regime's simultaneous advancement policy of defense and economic strength and what impact does this have on the future of the DPRK? In order to answer this question, my analysis first examines the history of North Korea during the Korean and Cold War era, and then during the nuclear negotiations of the 1990s and 2000s. It then surveys the internal changes that are happening in the DPRK under Kim Jong-un's rule before addressing Kim's geopolitical changes with South Korea. Through this analysis, my research concludes that while Kim Jong-un appears motivated to improve the quality of life in North Korea, this goal will always be secondary to his priority to protect the North Korean state and the legacy of his family's regime. Absent of a more accepting and understanding international community, Kim will likely opt for maintaining the DPRK's nuclear defense instead of seeking economic integration with the international community, undermining the prospects of peace on the Korean peninsula and a resolution to North Korean nuclear discussions.