North Korea’s Foreign Policy: The Kim Jong-un Regime in a Hostile World
from Asia Program

North Korea’s Foreign Policy: The Kim Jong-un Regime in a Hostile World

In North Korea’s Foreign Policy: The Kim Jong-un Regime in a Hostile World, CFR’s Scott A. Snyder and University of British Columbia’s Kyung-Ae Park offer a robust examination of North Korean foreign policy under Kim Jong-un, including its domestic drivers, summitry diplomacy, and nuclear program.

March 21, 2023 1:13 pm (EST)

Teaching Notes


Since Kim Jong-un’s assumption of power in December 2011, North Korea has undergone expanded nuclear development, political isolation, and economic stagnation. Kim’s early prioritization of simultaneous economic and military development, known as the byungjin policy, highlighted his goal of transforming North Korea’s domestic economic circumstances and strengthening its position in the world as a nuclear state. The central dilemma shaping Kim Jong-un’s foreign policy throughout his first decade in power revolves around ensuring North Korea’s prosperity and security while sustaining the political isolation and control necessary for regime survival.

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To evaluate North Korea’s foreign policy under Kim, North Korea’s Foreign Policy: The Kim Jong-un Regime in a Hostile World examines the impact of domestic factors that have influenced the formation and implementation of Kim’s foreign policy, Kim’s distinctive use of summitry and effectiveness of such meetings as an instrument by which to attain foreign policy goals, and the impact of international responses to North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear capabilities on North Korea’s foreign policy.

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Kim Jong-un

Foreign Policy

This book is suitable for the following disciplines in undergraduate and graduate courses:

  • International Relations
  • East Asian Studies and History
  • Contemporary East Asian Foreign Relations
  • Asian Security


Discussion and Essay Questions

Courses on International Relations

  1. What is the impact of North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons on its global stature and image?
  2. How do states use summitry as a tool of diplomacy?
  3. How have international sanctions influenced the goals and methods of North Korea’s foreign policy?
  4. What are some lessons that can be drawn from UN responses to North Korean nuclear and missile development?
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Courses on East Asian Studies and History

  1. How does the byungjin policy fit into the history of North Korean politics?
  2. How has North Korean engagement with other states both in East Asia and with the international community evolved throughout the past decades?
  3. Historically, what have been factors shaping North Korea’s bilateral relations with China and Russia?
  4. What are the predominant patterns that have characterized North Korea’s foreign policy?


Courses on Contemporary East Asian Foreign Relations

  1. What lessons can be drawn from North Korea’s recent summit diplomacy with South Korea, the United States, China, and Russia?
  2. Given North Korea’s nuclear and economic strategies, what can we project about diplomacy and deterrence in East Asia?
  3. What are some lessons that the leaders of East Asian countries and the United States can learn by studying North Korea’s history of nuclear development and diplomacy?
  4. What are the implications of the intensifying U.S.-China strategic competition on regional dynamics in East Asia and North Korea’s foreign relations?

More on:

North Korea

Kim Jong-un

Foreign Policy


Courses on Asian Security

  1. How do North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs exacerbate the security dilemma facing U.S. allies in the region?
  2. What is the future of the U.S. nuclear umbrella and extended deterrence in East Asia given North Korea’s advancing capabilities?
  3. What role do North Korean cyber activities play in regional security dynamics and response options by the United States and UN?
  4. What can be expected of the alliance dynamics in East Asia in light of advancements in North Korean nuclear and missile capabilities and trilateral U.S.-South Korea-Japan responses?


Further Projects


  1. Write a 700-word opinion piece on how the United States should reshape its North Korea policy based on lessons learned from the 2018–19 summitry period.
  2. Write a 700-word opinion piece on how South Korea, the United States, and the United Nations should address the human rights violations in North Korea or North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.


Analytical Essay

  1. How did Kim Jong-un consolidate his power between 2012 and2017? Compared to his predecessors, what are the different economic and military approaches Kim adopted and why?
  2. What led Kim to initiate summits with different leaders in 2018 and 2019? What was his objective, and what lessons were learned from the summitry?
  3. What are some of the tools and channels North Korea has used to engage with the international community? Which have generated the greatest benefits for North Korea?



  1. You are the personal speechwriter for Chairman Kim Jong-un in North Korea. As the new year approaches, he plans to deliver a speech for the general public on live television. Kim would like to touch on issues such as economic reform, military strength, and its relations with neighboring countries and the United States. Based on what you have learned from the book, draft a speech for Chairman Kim. Considering recent regional developments surrounding North Korea, how would you frame and discuss each topic? What would you prioritize, and what messages would you convey in the speech?


Policy Memo

  1. You are the U.S. Ambassador to South Korea. You receive a memo through back channels that North Korea has indicated its desire to re-engage with the United States through a presidential summit. Kim Jong-un has requested a bilateral summit with President Biden in one month. Write a policy memo for President Biden assessing North Korea’s negotiation style, tactics, and strategies. Make a careful analysis of the recent summits and give President Biden your policy recommendations on how to approach the negotiation with North Korea.



  1. Divide the students into four teams: the United States, South Korea, North Korea, and China. Ask the teams to negotiate the following topics: sanctions, nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, cyber theft, and human rights violations.


Press Briefing

  1. You are invited to Pyongyang as a journalist to attend an exclusive press briefing with Kim Jong-un. You will be interviewing Kim for sixty minutes, covering topics ranging from the domestic human rights situation to North Korea’s foreign policy. Prepare opening remarks and several questions for the interview.


Supplementary Materials

Bechtol, Burce. Red Rogue: The Persistent Challenge of North Korea. Dulles, VA: Potomac Books, 2007.

Becker, Jasper. Rogue Regime: Kim Jong Il and the Looming Threat of North Korea. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Cha, Victor and Kang, David C. Nuclear North Korea: A Debate on Engagement Strategies. New York: Columbia University Press, 2018.

Cumings, Bruce. Koreas Place in the Sun: A Modern History. W.W. Norton & Company, 2005.

Eberstadt, Nicholas. The North Korean Economy: Between Crisis and Catastrophe. Edison, N.J.: Transaction Books, 2007.

Fahy, Sandra. Dying for Rights: Putting North Korea’s Human Rights Abuses on the Record. New York: Columbia University Press, 2007.

Fifield, Anna. The Great Successor: The Divinely Perfect Destiny of Brilliant Comrade Kim Jong Un. New York: PublicAffaris, 2019

Grzelczyk, Virginie. North Korea’s New Diplomacy: Challenging Political Isolation in the 21st Century. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018.

Haggard, Stephan and Noland, Marcus. Famine in North Korea: Markets, Aids, and Reform. New York: Columbia University Press, 2007.

Kim, Byung-Yeon. Unveiling the North Korean Economy: Collapse and Transition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017.

Kim, Sung-Chull and Cohen, Michael D. North Korea and Nuclear Weapons: Entering the New Era of Deterrence. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2017.

King, Robert R and Shin, Gi-Wook. The North Korean Conundrum: Balancing Human Rights and Nuclear Security. Stanford: Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center, 2022.

Lankov, Andrei. North of the DMZ: Essays on Daily Life in North Korea. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland and Co., 2007.

Mallory, King. North Korean Sanctions Evasion Techniques. Rand Corporation, 2021.

Martin, Bradley K. Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader: North Korea and the Kim Dynasty. New York: Thomas Dune Books, 2006.

Natsios, Andrew S. The Great North Korean Famine: Famine, Politics, and Foreign Policy. Washington, D.C.: The United States Institute of Peace Press, 2001.

Pak, Jung H. Becoming Kim Jong Un: A Former CIA Officer’s Insights into North Korea’s Enigmatic Young Dictator. New York: Ballantine Books, 2020.

Snyder, Scott. Negotiating on the Edge: North Korean Negotiating Behavior. Washington D.C.: United States Institute of Peace Press, 1999.

Suh, Dae-Sook. Kim Il Sung: The North Korean Leader. New York: Columbia University Press, 1988.

White, Geoff. The Lazarus Heist: From Hollywood to High Finance: Inside North Korea’s Global Cyber Warfare. London: Penguin UK, 2022.

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