Journal Article - Quarterly Journal: International Security

Pyongyang’s Survival Strategy: Tools of Authoritarian Control in North Korea

| Summer 2010


Speculation about the future of the North Korean regime has been intense for nearly two decades. In the 1990s, economic crises and famine led to predictions of the Kim regime's imminent downfall. Today analysts highlight impending famine as well as threats to the regime's position brought by eroding information control. Several theories of authoritarian control help to explain how Kim Jong-il and his family have remained in power and how this might change over time. The Kim regime has employed a variety of authoritarian "tools" to protect itself both from popular revolt and from internal coups. Its social policies, reliance on certain ideas and nationalism, and use of force prevent the onset of revolution. Through numerous other tools (elite co-optation, manipulation of foreign governments for financial aid, and the "coup-proofing" of domestic institutions), the regime protects itself from coups d'état and elite unrest. This framework not only helps to explain the past resilience of the regime, but it suggests that the regime is not in danger of being unseated by coups or revolution. Yet it also suggests that the regime has not adequately prepared for succession after Kim's death. This analysis has implications for policy planning about the future of the Korean Peninsula, as well as for negotiations with and coercive strategies toward Pyongyang.


To read Daniel Byman and Jennifer Lind's policy brief, "Keeping Kim:  How North Korea's Regime Stays in Power," please click here.

For more information on this publication: Please contact International Security
For Academic Citation: Daniel Byman, Jennifer Lind. Pyongyang’s Survival Strategy: Tools of Authoritarian Control in North Korea.” Quarterly Journal: International Security, vol. 35. no. 1. (Summer 2010):

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