1st Edition

North Korea’s Nuclear Decisions and Strategies Sovereignty, Legitimacy, and the Bomb

By George A. Hutchinson Copyright 2025
    258 Pages
    by Routledge

    This book provides a comprehensive analysis of North Korea’s nuclear strategies and of the decisions which explain its strategic motivations.

    The existence of two separate Koreas is an accepted outcome of the current international system. However, in today’s emerging multipolar order, the question of Korean legitimacy remains unresolved and South Korea finds itself surrounded by three nuclear powers—China, Russia and, de facto, North Korea. This book traces North Korea’s nuclear quest across three major epochs: the Cold War, the post-Cold War, and post-September 11 periods. Through these lenses, the book reveals the underlying drivers of North Korea's nuclear decisions and strategies, providing evidence that North Korea’s nuclear weapons are not only intended to guarantee the survival of the Kim regime, but also hold the key for Pyongyang to resolve the lingering question over Korean legitimacy. The book provides evidence, through a longitudinal case study, that North Korea’s nuclear program provides a means to achieve full sovereign control of the Korean Peninsula by exploiting future opportunities in an increasingly multipolar international order.

    This book will be of interest to students in the fields of foreign policy, defense policy, nuclear proliferation, Korean Studies and International Relations.



    1. From Tributary to Colony to Divided State: Korean Sovereignty in a Changing World


    Part I. Bipolar Order in the Cold War


    Section Introduction


    2. Liberated Korea in a Bipolar Atomic Order


    3. From Armistice to Atomic Ambitions: Planting the Seeds of Nuclear Latency


    4. Roots of Nuclear Resolve: Kim Il Sung’s Proliferation Decision


    5. Seoul’s Cold War Triumph and Pyongyang’s Nuclear Subterfuge


    Part II. Unipolar Order in the Post-Cold War


    Section Introduction


    6. North Korea’s Nuclear Path to Legitimacy 


    7. Brinkmanship and Diplomacy: Negotiating with North Korea


    Part III. World Disorder and the Post-September 11 Era


    Section Introduction


    8. Kim Jong Il’s Nuclear Acquisition Decision


    9. Kim Jong Un’s Race Against Sanctions and the Ripening of North Korea’s Nuclear Doctrine


    10. Conclusion


    George A. Hutchinson is the author of Army of the Indoctrinated: The Suryong, the Soldier, and Information in the KPA. He is the editor of the International Journal of Korean Studies and holds a doctorate from George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government. A retired U.S. Air Force veteran, he served as both a Logistics Readiness officer and Korean linguist. He currently works as a consultant supporting and advising basing issues in the Republic of Korea.

    "This is a book filled with thought provoking analysis and policy-relevant assessments. Hutchinson crafts a work that will be must reading for policy makers, scholars, and anyone who has an interest in understanding Pyongyang’s geopolitical goals and actions.”

    -Bruce E. Bechtol, Jr., Professor of Political Science, Angelo State University, USA.


    “George A.  Hutchinson's extraordinary study provides readers with a deep and exacting account of the North Korean regime's relentless quest for the atomic weaponry, and helps us make sense of the motivations and calculations behind the Kim dynasty's dogged, three-generation pursuit of nuclear status. Like them or not, scholars and policymakers will ignore his conclusions at their own peril.”

    -Nicholas Eberstadt, Hendt Chair in Political Economy, American Enterprise Institute (AEI), USA.