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9International Relations Theories

North Korea


The release of investigation report on North Korea human rights crimes was a result of United Nations backed by major States like U.S, UK, Japan and South Korea attention to urgent dangers of atrocities (Hong 2014). North Korea was viewed as an actual danger which great powers should be united to approach as it increasingly undermined common human rights and value. There are different perspectives or international relation theories that can help look at 2014 North Korea human right issues. Specifically, the theories would focus on the character of relationship between Western States on one hand and Eastern States on the other over the issue. They would also help to indicate whether such relations would be marked by convergence towards cooperation, peace, stability or deterioration leading to open sanctions and perhaps even a war.

Eventually, the answers to the outcomes or aftermath of North Korea report are of enormous importance. If tension between the two fronts; the Western and Eastern worsen, the whole Eastern countries would be divided in a kind of cold war and there would be prospects for conflict or confrontation. On the other hand, peaceful resolution would bring sustained economic growth, resolution of regional disputes and successful management of possible global problems like nuclear weapons proliferation and terrorism.

Liberal optimists

As Friedberg (2005) points out, liberal theorists build their claims and viewpoints in international issues on resumed links between democracy, trade, growth and peace. In country that seeks to access other markets is required to oblige to performance of human rights issues. Ultimately, trade promotes democracy and ultimate peace, stability and liberty. Liberals see progressive forces that would lead to a world with ever-higher levels of peace and prosperity. The theory is based on a viewpoint that sees history in a smoothly ascending curve. When it comes to foreign affairs matters, most liberals regard the prospects for understanding, peace and cooperation among nations. On questions of their viewpoint on North Korea human right issue, and more generally on future of global politics, liberal would believe in pacifying power of mutually reinforcing mechanisms including; democratization, economic interdependence and international institutions. Despite the abuses, liberal optimist would offer suggestions on the probable approach the concerned States would take by noting the importance of shared interests and good relations between States (Williams 2004). North Korea trades a lot in energy sector and due to that, the States would look for ways to preserve peace ad avoid conflict.

As Keohane (2012) observes, liberal optimist’s places great confidence in the role played by international institutions at various levels and of various kinds. From this viewpoint, international institutions should be concerned in improving communication, reduce uncertainty and commit North Korean government in making credible and binding commitment to safeguard human rights. In doing so, that would help in easing or counteracting pernicious effect of anarchy and create way for higher level cooperation and attainable endeavors. Institutions in East Asia like APEC, ASEAN, East Asia Summit and United Nations would participate in human rights issues talks and ensure effective dialogues to sustained peace (Friedberg 2005).

In addition, liberal optimists believe in democracy as a force for peace. As democracy in the world in increases, the likelihood of engaging into conflict with North Korea should eventually diminish. Liberal would still think that, democratization process is already under way in North Korea although still far from being finished. This can be seen through its openness to economic development and trade. Economic development is seen as a means through which political liberalization can be achieved (Keohane 2012). In addition, with the current flow of information, North Korea will in near future reduce their restriction for speech and control of communication.

Realists’ paradigm

As Mansbach & Taylor (2013) observes, realists see some inescapable laws according to natural course of events that compel recurring struggle for power as well as survival. Instead of seeing the world history curve in an ascending manner, realists view it as existing in a vicious circle. In absence of higher authority that would be involved in resolving disputes and to impose order, peace will usually prove to be short-term and conflict will always be a norm. In the case of North Korea, realists would see the conditions of anarchy prevailing where material power and military strength of various countries and particularly United States and other countries with influence in international system to typically being the force behind decisions that would shape the pattern of relations that would exist between them and North Korea. Possible outcomes would be trade and travel sanctions to North Korea determined and pushed for by joined powers of U.S. UK, Japan and South Korea.

Realist pessimist would see North Korea as increasing and moving toward a speed of becoming an enormous threat to international peace and stability. North Korea appears to be increasingly digressing and frustrating human rights both at national, regional and international level. North Korea may one day gain a historic position as a country with most atrocities as in the past, its production of weapons of mass destruction appears to be unprecedented. In turn, it would try to exert its position by enlarging its military capabilities and warfare production efforts. The spending on arms and military equipment with increased absorption of sophisticated weapons predict that North Korea will not deploy any course of action to increasingly become capable in containing human rights atrocities.

The viewpoint is closely related to what Kirby pointed in the report tabled to UN in February that North Korea was more headed to a place of autocratic German (Hong 2014). To make the matter worse, China that has been seen as a rising power over the past decades is seen to side with North Korea. There are still hostilities that exist between the Western nations, particularly the U.S and UK on one hand and the Eastern Russia with other Middle East countries. The logic would be some states and powers tend to be troublemakers (Toloraya 2012).

The case of North Korea will be seen as stark before a realist as its leaders are tending to define their interests in international system and more expansively seek greater influence over their interests and support. It will eventually seek to secure frontiers and protect its citizens from influence while defending its foreign friends. Eventually, North Korea is trying to assert itself as a power that draws territorial boundaries, creates its arrangements and hierarchies that are in stark opposite to international system. As Hong (2014) points out, the history of North Korea and U.S in particular reflect a cold relation where North Korean leaders feel that they were unfairly treated and robbed what is rightfully theirs. In turn, they might move like Germany that bringing them into conflict with established great powers that appears to be architects and beneficiaries of the current international system.

Realists would then explain the focus to North Korean case to be potentially dealt with through a number of ways though resulting disputes would be seldom resolvable peacefully. If the Western nations would recognize the growing threat to international position on human rights, the dominant powers formed of coalition of powers with status quo can use force as a preventative action for destroying North Korea before achieving its full potential (Williams 2004). The stand on United Nations and other regional organizations in ensuring human rights may end up in frustrations and resentments. For North Korea’s case, successful policies of appeasement or engagement have only been possible in theory but difficult in practice when it comes to implementation. Currently, North Korea is behaving assertively and risking being in conflict with others. Security dilemma, aroused alarm and stimulated countermeasures are inevitable at this point and that would only lead to adverse measures as coalition of status quo states challenge North Korea’s government through sanctions and possible wars (Chen 2014).

However, realist optimists might see less possibility of a war as due to current divisions that exists between nations. If North Korean interests are challenged by some states on the ground of safeguarding human dignity and respect for human rights, its government would seek ties with other countries like China that are less obliged to international human rights position. On the other hand, if the coalition of status quo powers opts to go for offensive action, there would be security dilemma that would fuel the use of weapons of mass destruction, post-cold war sentiments and trigger repeatedly assaults due to support of terrorists by those that sides with North Korea. These are objective realities that create fears and the need to work on security dilemma.


Constructivist viewpoints see international relationships as socially constructed. The nature of interactions between Western States and North Korea is not simply objective and build on recent human rights issues that are raised up. Interstate relations can also be shaped by considerable subjective factors, beliefs, ideas and people that cover events and put up their viewpoints to interpret the cause of events and available data in particular ways. For Northern Korea case, three categories can be put forward by constructivist theorists. First, identities or collective self-perceptions that are raised up by political actors as well as their shared perceptions with others might prevail in looking at the situation (Friedberg 2005). This might be taken to define the stand point taken by U.S, UK, Japan and South Korea has taken that may prevail to define North Korea, In actual sense, the situation might be amplified due to stereotypes and long standing hostilities that have existed particularly between U.S and South Korea on one hand and North Korea on the other. The hostility might push them to define North Korea as not regarding human rights in order to raise unnecessary sanctions or bring the possibility of overthrowing the current government replacing it with another where they may see prospects of being involved in domestic affairs of the country.

According to Südhof & Malenka (2008), strategic cultures present a set of beliefs on fundamental character that are marked by international politics as well as the best ways to cope with it. The world is definitely divided by specific cultures that share a common identity across various parameters. Thirdly, norms define what is efficacious, right and appropriate in international realm. The three are transmitted across some generational lines through education and acculturation which makes North Korea to be completely different to Western cultures and thus North Korea would be subjectively judged by coalition of these powerful states.

In conclusion, North Korea might not have taken substantive steps on human rights and fundamental importance of human dignity and respect in the past. There are still no significant improvements in military actions in the country as well as issues human rights; ill-treatment, torture, guards actions, freedom of expression and association, minorities rights and judiciary authority. The considerations that was to be taken after February 2014 investigations into human rights issues can be explained through viewpoints that may probably explain the decision to be taken and consequent actions. There are three most expansive paradigms that explain issues on international relations.

Liberals have a more optimist view when predicting about the outcomes where two states or fronts are seen to work towards cooperation, peace and stability. They build up their foresights on the historical developments which has endeared democracy, trade and growth which would mean that the response of great power states would be more inclined in seeking peaceful negotiations and particularly use United Nations or regional institutions to resolve North Korean human rights issues. However, it has some weaknesses as there has been continuous disregard for such rights by Northern Korea and appeasement has ended up in dire frustration over the time. Realists’ theorists would have been more pessimistic on the steps that would be taken on North Korean due to failure of human rights. Specifically, it would have seen an inevitable conflict that would eventually force North Korea to take into considerations the issues of concern.

However, optimist realists comes up with the most probable outcomes by predicting imminent conflict but taking the opposing states as logical actors who would take into account the prevailing factor that would threaten international peace and stability. If coalition of states were to take a stern steps by imposing sanctions or proposing war that would divide the global states into two with some supporting Western nations and its affiliates while others supporting North Korea. Constructivist looks at subjective aspects of political, social and cultural positions that are used to interpret the actions of a country like North Korea. Its stand is; nations can be judged based on prevailing subjective stands and that would mean that North Korea is ultimately judged through past hostilities that exist between it and other Western countries.


Chen, R A 2014, Critical Analysis of the US “Pivot” toward the Asia-Pacific: How Realistic is Neo-realism?

Friedberg, A. L 2005, The Future of US-China Relations: Is Conflict Inevitable? International security30(2), 7-45.

Hong, C 2014, Human Rights in North Korea: War by Other Means: The Violence of North Korean Human Rights, The Asia-pacific Journal, Vol. 12, Issue 13.

Keohane, R O 2012, Twenty years of institutional liberalism. International Relations, 26(2), 125-138.

Mansbach, R W , & Taylor, K L 2013, Introduction to global politics. Routledge.

Südhof, T. C., & Malenka, R. C 2008, Understanding synapses: past, present, and future. Neuron60(3), 469-476.

Toloraya, G 2012, Russia and North Korea: New Putin’s Term-Old Policy?.IFANS, 53.

Williams, M. C 2004, Why ideas matter in international relations: Hans Morgenthau, classical realism, and the moral construction of power politics. International Organization, 633-665.