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Of Warriors and Scholars: Identities, Interests, and Korean Strategies towards Great Powers Open Access

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The anarchic nature of the international system supposedly constrains and determines a state’s behavior, as states are forced to make rational decisions to choose the best course available to ensure their security. This is especially true for weak states. Yet, despite their shared history and international environment, the two Koreas have pursued drastically different grand strategies towards great powers. North Korea pursues an aggressive strategy to seek autonomy and status. Pyongyang seeks to manipulate and pit the great powers against each other while pursuing nuclear weapons. South Korea is less concerned about assertiveness and pursues a subtle strategy to seek stability and economic development. When there is a single dominant power in Northeast Asia, Seoul bandwagons with the great power. During times of multipolarity or power transitions, South Korea hedges among great powers to avoid becoming caught in conflicts, strengthening old alliances while accommodating newly rising powers. What explains this discrepancy? This thesis argues that the two Koreas have pursued different grand strategies because the two states have developed radically different national identities after World War II. North Korea has defined itself as a warrior state in the tradition of Goguryeo. South Korea has defined itself as a soft power state based on American cultural values in the tradition of Joseon dynasty. Once established, the two identities have become institutionalized, constraining successive governments and leaders’ room for maneuver with regard to their security strategies. The identities have been powerful enough to withstand changes in regime type and leadership. The differences in identities have then led to different strategic preferences within the confines of geopolitical constraints for the two Koreas.

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