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North Korea: The Korean People’s Army in the Shadow of Its Supreme Leader  

Seongji Woo

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has long remained a hermit socialist nation. The North Korean leaders have endeavored to build a strong military with a large manpower and nuclear weapons capabilities even though some of its military gear is outmoded. The dictatorship in Pyongyang has used the ever-present threats from external hostile forces as well as potential domestic enemies as a rationale for beefing up its armed forces. The origin of the North Korean military dates back to Kim Il-sung’s anti-Japanese armed struggle in the 1930s. Kim Jong-il and Kim Jong-un, his successors, have continued to improve the country’s nuclear and missile programs with vigor, even at the expense of a failing economy. Kim Jong-un has been bargaining with the United States over the scaling down of his nuclear and missile programs while hinting at major economic reform and opening up projects to revive the economy. Whether Pyongyang is genuine about denuclearization in exchange for international economic support and security guarantees remains unclear. North Korea has a highly militarized regime and, thus, some have referred to it as a garrison state or a fortress state. Its posture to the outside world is oftentimes militant and abrasive. The regime in Pyongyang invaded its southern neighbor in a fratricidal war in the early 1950s. The history of inter-Korean relations since then has been marred by repetitive currents of feuds and crises, many of which have been inflamed by the North. The North Korean military holds a firm place in society. Over its history, North Korea’s Supreme Leader, along with the Korean Workers’ Party, has maintained tight control over the military. The leader’s firm control of the armed forces is likely to persist for the time being.

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Foreign Policy Learning  

Guy Ziv

An improved understanding of foreign policy learning necessitates a clarification of what foreign policy learning is, who learns, and how such learning occurs. Cognitive and social psychologists, sociologists, and political scientists situated in a variety of subfields have contributed to the understanding of foreign policy learning, a multidisciplinary area of inquiry. Learning theorists seek to show how a change in an actor’s beliefs due to experience or observation can lead to changes at other units, such as organizations and within the government. This cognitive dimension is important because actors may pursue a new course of action for politically expedient reasons rather than having genuinely “learned”—a distinction referred to as “complex” vs. “simple” learning. Foreign policy learning can be internal or external. The former type of learning entails what individuals, governments, or organizations learn from their prior experience. Learning theorists who focus on the individual level of analysis borrow insights from political psychology in an effort to shed light on the personal characteristics, the belief structures, and the cognitive psychological mechanisms of political actors that can better inform policymaking. Leaders whose cognitive structures are described as relatively open and complex—like Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, whose learning brought about the dramatic changes that ultimately led to the demise of the Soviet Union—are more likely to alter their beliefs than their cognitively closed and simple counterparts. Yet external learning occurs as well. Policy diffusion studies show that learning can result from demonstration effects. Foreign policy learning via diffusion is not instrumental, but instead occurs through osmosis. Privatization in the former communist states, China’s Foreign Direct Investment liberalization, and the diffusion of environmental norms in the European Union are examples of learning that is contagious, not chosen. A more conscious mode of learning than diffusion is policy transfer, which entails policymakers’ transferring ideas from one country and implementing them in another. Technological innovations, unlike lessons that involve political ideology, are generally easier lessons to transfer—for example, Japan’s success in applying lessons from the West to modernize its army in the second half of the 19th century. The constraints to foreign policy learning are formidable. Decision makers are not always open to reconsidering views that challenge their beliefs. Leaders tend to resort to, and misuse, analogies that prevent learning. Even a change in a decision maker’s beliefs may not lead to foreign policy change, given the myriad political pressures, bureaucratic hurdles, and economic realities that often get in the way of implementing new ideas. Indeed, foreign policy learning and foreign policy change are not synonymous. Scholars face significant obstacles in studying foreign policy learning. There is no consensus on the definition of learning, on what constitutes learning, on how actors learn, when they learn, or on how to assess whether learning has taken place. Despite attempts to make sense of the confusion, scholars face the daunting challenge of improving understanding of how learning is shaped and funneled through the interaction of agents and the structures in which they are situated, as well as the relationship between learning and foreign policy change.