Kim Jung-un and Moon Jae-in met for the first time in April, 2018 [South Korea Gov.]

▲Kim Jung-un and Moon Jae-in met for the first time in April, 2018 [South Korea Gov.]


North Korea has always utilized its nuclear power as a leverage for negotiation in world politics. Nuclear weapons, asymmetric power, are the last measure for North Korea which lacks absolute military and economic power. Although North Korea lags behind the United States and South Korea in military/economic power, its possession of nuclear weapons renders it a significant threat to other countries. Recently, however, they have continued to develop their nuclear power in disregard of international regulations. In other words, they have not used nuclear issue as a leverage for negotiation to induce economic support. They have rather concentrated on completing nuclear development, not considering persuasion from peripheral countries. This attitude can be attributed to the fact that the development of their nuclear power is almost complete. Many experts say that North Korea judges the recognition of their nation with nuclear power to be a more powerful negotiation tool (Korea times, 2016).

In this situation, South Korea has been trying many different kinds of strategies to resolve the nuclear crisis because security is their main goal: United States-South Korea joint military exercises and United Nations sanctions against North Korea are some of those strategies. Despite these oppressive methods using hard power, North Korea has refused to participate in negotiations.

Most recently, however, North Korea has discarded its previous stance for a more peaceful and amicable position following the PyeongChang Olympics. Discussions about nuclear power are proceeding and the nation has even declared that they will stop developing nuclear power.

Diverse causes such as international relations or economic needs influence their transition. This essay would argue that the soft power strategies of South Korea are substantially influencing North Korea. Therefore, an analysis of South Korea’s soft power strategies is necessary in order to figure out the successful way to resolve the nuclear crisis.

Importance of soft-power strategies in policies against North Korea

North Korea has justified its dictatorship through the development of its ‘Juche’ ideology which is very unique. This ideology is established on the theory of ‘rule by class’ which stems from Marxism-Leninism. In addition, the regime has combined it with Confucianism that portrays a dictator as a father of family (Jung Seong Jang, 1999). Through this justification, a dictator is located at the top of class, which would complete the communist ideal. People are taught this ideology thoroughly and anyone who violates the ideology is punished. To open up this society which has formerly been ideologically closed, their ideology should be undermined by other attractive ideology, culture, and symbol.

However, North Korea has effectively blocked it. For example, recently, many people in North Korea have covertly shared TV shows and music from South Korea. People who are caught enjoying this culture are severely punished by the government. In these types of societies, oppression through hard power strategies doesn’t affect making any kind of change in internal society. It rather could be used to enhance internal solidarity because the potential offenders such as United States or South Korea are postulated as certain enemies to North Korea, which requires internal solidarity to people. North Korea has actually depicted capitalism, United States and South Korea as the main enemies in media. It intends to induce loyalty from people.

As a result, the regime have developed nuclear weapons successfully under strong censorship. Nuclear power is the main key to maintain the dictatorship. The declaration of ‘Nuclear-Economy parallel development’ from the start of Kim Jung-Eun’s government implies that the regime would ensure nuclear weapon as a measure to maintain its system. In this situation, sending the message that its system can coordinately survive alongside South Korea in world politics is important. Not only oppressive strategies but also appropriate strategies which attract North Korea to negotiate are needed.

Analysis of South Korea Soft Power Strategies

In this analysis, I will employ a different concept of soft power compared from the one given by Joseph Nye. Nye’s original concept of soft power focuses on types of behavior. In terms of his concept, co-optive power such as attraction and persuasion also constitutes soft power regardless of the type of resource (Joseph Nye, 2013). However, the concept of soft power I will use focuses on what types of resources users use regardless of the type of behaviors. Therefore, any kinds of power exerted by only soft resources such as images, diplomacy, agenda-setting and so on could be soft power. It is a resource-based concept compared to Nye’s concept which is behavior based (Geun Lee, 2011).

I use this concept because using hard resources such as military power and economic regulation to resolve the nuclear problem in North Korea has been ineffective so far. Therefore, using the concept of soft power which is based on soft resources makes it possible to analyze different kinds of soft power and find ways to improve it.

According to the thesis by Geun Lee (2011: p.9) who used the concept I mentioned above, there are 4 categories of Soft Power. I will use these categories to analyze the soft power strategies of South Korea.

1. Application of soft resources – Fear – Coercive power (or resistance)

2. Application of soft resources – Attractiveness, Safety, Comfort, Respect – Co-optive power

3. Application of soft resources (theories, interpretative frameworks) – New ways of thinking and calculating – Co-optive power

4. Socialization of the co-optive power in the recipients – Long term soft power in the form of “social habit”


1. Oppression through diplomacy: Two-track diplomacy

South Korea takes advantage of soft power strategies that request a global mutual-assistance system in order to oppress North Korea. Based on diplomatic capabilities, South Korea has tried to make it clear that all countries in world politics are demanding a solution to the North Korean nuclear crisis. Through these strategies, it wants to provoke fear in North Korea that it would be impossible to restore its relationship with the world. These strategies have been influential because they are harmonized with United Nations’ Security Council resolutions. Especially, the two-track diplomacy conducted by the president Moon-jae-in in the United Nations general assembly in 2017 is evaluated to be successful. He gave North Korea two options in order to attract them to negotiate (The fact, 2017). The president Moon-jae-in stressed the importance of cooperation about nuclear crisis among countries in his address to the general assembly. Moreover, he discussed the issue with the presidents of United States and Japan and pushed for a firm stance against the North Korea nuclear problem. However, at the same time, he declared that South Korea is ready for peaceful negotiation and discussion if North Korea wish to negotiate and stop developing its nuclear power. By offering two options, South Korea not only aimed to incite fear in North Korea but also left room for North Korea to appear at the negotiation tables.

Strategies using diplomatic capabilities are valuable because they can induce coercive power through soft resources. However, it would be difficult to judge the effectiveness if North Korea didn’t show any reaction to these strategies. Moreover, the cooperation with Russia and China is very important to persuade North Korea because they are maintaining amicable relationships with North Korea against United States and Japan. In the situation that North Korea has aimed to complete development of nuclear weapons for negotiation, diplomatic oppression is not effective itself for making change.


Joint statement by the leaders of North and South Korea, in April 2018 [South Korea Gov.]

Joint statement by the leaders of North and South Korea, in April 2018 [South Korea Gov.]


2. Sports and culture: Peaceful gesture

The attempt to converse through sports and culture is one of the soft power strategies used by South Korea in order to solve the nuclear crisis. This strategy intends to obtain North Korea’s cooperation in non-political areas which could then spread to political negotiations. As a result of this strategy, South Korea and North Korea formed a unified team during the last Olympics and Asian games (Yonhapnews, 2018). However, for it to be a success, their cooperation should not be limited to the non-political area, but instead should lead to a constructive conversation in politics. In these terms, South Korea’s peaceful gesture in the Pyeong-Chang winter Olympic is seen to have brought about positive change. Before the Olympics, many politicians and experts were skeptical to the gesture because North Korea conducted the 6th nuclear test in 2017, ignoring South Korea’s message (Korea times, 2018). In extension of the two-track diplomacy strategy, nevertheless, the South Korea government has continually shown a desire to cooperate with North Korea. These strategies focus on cooperation only in soft power domains such as sports, culture, and music rather than domains that expose serious political intension.

In the United Nations general assembly which adopted a truce for the Pyeong-Chang Olympics, gold medalist Kim-yun-a required North Korea to participate in Olympics on her address (Chungang, 2017). Moreover, in the event for praying successful Olympics, the president Moon-jae-in sent another peaceful gesture mentioning that South Korea would wait for the participation of North Korea until the beginning of Olympics (Voakorea, 2017). This strategy ended up having successfully attracted North Korea. As a result, they composed a unified ice hockey team and diplomats were dispatched from North Korea during the Olympics to watch the game with South Korean government officials. And then, they exchanged cultural performances in Pyeong-Chang and Pyeong-yang. Finally, the efforts led to the summit meeting between South-North Korea, and North Korea even declared that it would stop developing nuclear power and establish cooperation with South Korea.

It is too early to judge whether North Korea will stop developing their nuclear influence. However, it is a success in the sense that South Korea has attracted North Korea into conversations. Especially, South Korea has effectively taken advantage of the situation that all countries in international relations pay attention to the nuclear crisis of North Korea. They continuously pull North Korea into the center of world politics and leave North Korea without alternative option. Continuous agenda-setting and issue making has finally attracted North Korea.

3. Agenda-setting and framing

It is important to continuously set agendas about issues which are related to North Korea’s violations concerning the nuclear crisis and human rights. Although North Korea is isolated from world politics, it can’t operate its system if it refuses to cooperate or trade with other countries. As a result, it do not want to be in constant conflict with world politics. Therefore, the focal point of agenda-setting South Korea should impress is the negative effects of nuclear policies and dictatorship of North Korea. Moreover, South Korea should recognize that the goal of developing nuclear influence of North Korea is not to declare war but to ensure protection for their political system. South Korea needs to continuously stress that political system of North Korea would be insured after nuclear dismantlement. These strategies change thoughts of North Korea and induce it to participate in negotiations.

However, South Korea has not been effectively employing this strategy. Agenda-setting which might arouse direct conflict with North Korea could aggravate their relationship. This explains its unwillingness to resort to this strategy. On the other hand, the United States show effective agenda-setting which relates to the nuclear crisis mentioning Iran as a positive example of a successful negotiation.

South Korea needs to set and frame the agenda about similar issues closely related to North Korea. For example, the rebellion against the dictatorship in Syria and the resulting death of the dictator in Yemen which stem from tyrannical politics could be a negative precedent. Also, the agreement with Iran that acquired economic support by abandoning nuclear development could be a positive precedent. Through this agenda setting, South Korea should change the thought of North Korea about their nuclear policies. If this strategy succeeds, North Korea will obtain a new interpretative framework, which could lead them to negotiate.

4. Competition of system: North Korea defector and Korean wave

The last type of soft power strategy is a fundamental solution to provoke change. While the strategies I mentioned above directly targets the North Korea government, this strategy mainly targets the people and the society of North Korea. Promoting economic, cultural superiority could influence the North Korean people and then it could lead to movements which would require a transition from the current society. There are many different kinds of way to conduct this strategy and it is abstract in that we can’t measure how much it could influence society. However, it could also be a strategy which North Korea fears the most in the sense that it could provoke change from the bottom of the society. In addition to this, it could arouse fundamental doubt about the ‘Juche’ ideology or nuclear development which is maintained by an exploitative system.

One of these strategies is the policy concerning defectors. South Korea has been implementing policies which accept defectors and help them adjust to the South Korea society. These defectors get a chance to be independent through re-socialization. And then, some of them carry out activities which denounce the horrible reality of the internal society of North Korea. If their voice became influential in world politics, it could become a greater threat to the North Korea system. In 2012, some defectors testified against the internal violation of human rights in UNCHR to gain attention from the world (Newsis, 2016).

In addition, recently, Korean dramas and music are covertly shared within the North Korea society (Daily NK, 2018). It could also provoke a social movement to call for change. Because the contents reflect a much higher standard of living, it triggers curiosity and admiration from North Korean people. These strategies lead society of North Korea to socialize with the co-optive power in the recipients. Ultimately, long term soft power could threaten North Korea itself.

Limits and conclusion

This essay has analyzed the strategies South Korea has used in order to resolve the North Korean nuclear crisis. South Korea threatens North Korea utilizing consensus among countries. Strategies its government has shown such as the speech of the president Moon-jae-in in the United Nations general assembly, the winter Olympics which reflected a desire for peace and the two-track diplomacy are totally different from the consistently conservative policies that the previous governments showed during the last ten years. In addition, the declaration of the Trump’s administration that they would continuously pressure North Korea about nuclear issues offered the opportunity to react to North Korea’s nuclear policies. In this process, active joint response among South Korea, United States and Japan is also necessary.

However, it is true that there are some drawbacks. In order for North Korea to eventually accept nuclear disarmament, South Korea absolutely needs to cooperate with Russia and China which are not only in a good relationship with North Korea but also in a comparatively competitive relationship with the United States and Japan. If South Korea will succeed in gaining their support, the process of reaching an agreement concerning nuclear issues would be much easier.

Eventually, in contrast with the hard power strategies with hard resources, soft power strategies with soft resources can only be effective when South Korea offers the second attractive option. The options are diverse. The main point is that North Korea should recognize the positive effects of abandoning nuclear.

Also, South Korea should recognize that the effect of soft power strategies is maximized when it coexists with economic / military oppression through hard power. In other words, South Korea must take into account Joseph Nye’s smart power to solve the nuclear crisis.

In this process, the most important thing is to persuade North Korea by offering an attractive choice. The reason why North Korea desires to have a summit meeting with South Korea and the United States is because they judge that the choice would be more profitable. Therefore, the South Korean government needs to reflect upon what objectives North Korea has when they accept to negotiate. For example, China’s economic opening is an example of a good precedent that North Korea could follow. South Korea needs to give North Korea a blue print such as the example of China and lead the agreement about the nuclear problem.

Lastly, it is difficult to apprehend the effectiveness of soft power strategies with soft resources, mentioned by Geun Lee, in the sense that the data and the figures about this strategy are not easy to measure in contrast with hard power strategies. Also, many causes exist concerning change of North Korea. Therefore, further research needs to establish a system to get concrete and scientific data in order to apprehend the complex causes and effects of this strategy such as that stem from smart power strategies.



Geun Lee (2009) A theory of soft power and Korea's soft power strategy, Korean Journal of Defense Analysis, 21:2, 205-218, DOI: 10.1080/10163270902913962

Joseph S. Nye. JR. (2013) HARD, SOFT, AND SMART POWER. In: Andrew F. Cooper, Jorge Heine, and Ramesh Thakur(eds.) The Oxford Handbook of Modern Diplomacy, pp.559-574

Jung Seong Jang. (1999) Theoretical Structure and Characteristics of the Juche Ideology. 북한연구학회보, 3:2, 251-273

Chungang ilbo, (2017) 김연아, 평화올림픽 위해 UN에서 4분 영어연설 [Online] Available.

DAILY NK. (2018) 어쩔 수 없이 인도영화를 처벌강화에 南드라마 시청 주춤 [Online] Available.

Korea Times. (2018) 북한, 평창올림픽 참가 놓고 정치권 장외설전 가열 [Online] Available.

Korean Times. (2016) 왜 북한은 핵개발을 멈추지 않는가? [Online] Available.

Newsis. (2016) 탈북자들, 유엔 인권위에서 강제낙태와 고문 등 증언 [Online] Available.

The Fact. (2017) 文대통령’데뷔전’ UN본부 입성… ‘북핵 파문’ NYPD ’긴장’ [Online] Available.

Voakorea. (2017) 문재인 한국 대통령 “북한 평창올림픽 참가 끝까지 기다릴 것” [Online] Available.

Yonhapnews. (2018) 27년 만에 ‘남북 단일팀’ 출범 임박… 올림픽은 사상 최초 [Online] Available.

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