The juche H-bomb? North Korea, nuclear weapons and regime-state survival

Edward Howell, DPhil candidate, has published a new article on nuclear ideology in North Korea.


Existing scholarship on North Korea's nuclear programme remains overwhelmingly centred around questions of containment or engagement with the North Korean regime-state, amid international calls for denuclearization. Yet, scholarship has rarely interrogated the precise value of nuclear weapons to the regime-state. This article develops a new theoretical framework of nuclear ideology to explore the puzzle of the survival of North Korea. This framework aims to show how the North Korean nuclear programme is deeply entrenched within the state ideology of juche, as one device for continued regime-state survival. Through interviews with elite North Korean defectors and textual analysis of North Korean and international sources, I show that North Korea's nuclear ideology has been constructed according to different frames of meaning, targeting referent actors of international ‘enemy’ powers and domestic audiences. This article concludes that nuclear ideology functions primarily as a tool to arouse domestic legitimacy for the North Korean regime-state, by targeting elite actors within the highly stratified domestic population. From an international perspective, perception of North Korea's survival remains tied largely to the regime-state's physical possession of nuclear weapons. This article has extremely timely theoretical and policy implications given the current ‘dialogue’ between US and North Korean leaders. First, it opens up fruitful avenues of inquiry surrounding questions of the legitimacy of rogue states within international relations. Secondly, this article calls for a more robust understanding of the domestic-level politics of North Korea, in order to understand the regime-state's foreign policy decisions vis-à-vis its nuclear programme.

  • img01i
    'International Affairs' is a leading international relations journal
Publishers Website
Mr Edward Howell is a DPhil student at DPIR