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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Engagement theory and target identity : an analysis of North Korean responses to contemporary inter-Korean engagement Roberts, Liam


This thesis presents an analysis of engagement theory, as compared and contrasted with deterrence and compellence, as a tool for minimizing the risk of conflict with a dissatisfied power. Using the particular case study of inter-Korean engagement since the 2000 North-South Korea Summit, this analysis proceeds with a model of "active engagement" that attempts the socialization of new norms in the belligerent target, alleviation of negative cognitive biases, and reduction in the target's material domain of losses, while maintaining a strong deterrent against expansionism. This study proceeds from the perspective of the dissatisfied power (the engagement target) in effort to better understand what motivates either cooperative or uncooperative responses to engagement. Domains of losses are complex and dependent on what goods (economic, political, ideational) a target values most. This study details the particular goods that North Korean leadership values most highly and analyzes internal preference formations that complicate outside efforts to engage the regime. In studying the South Korean engagement project, this thesis finds that a combination of de-politicized economic and cultural engagement streams has had a strong impact on North Korean preference formation. Mindful of negative cognitive biases that skew target states' perspective of external "promises," this study also argues that South Korea has managed to advance its engagement agenda by presenting itself as an internal actor to the divided Korean nation, thus reducing threat perceptions and appealing to North Korean ideational and political priorities. This thesis concludes that a de-linked, state-based, active engagement process must precede institutionalized, regime-based cooperation. This initial phase may nevertheless see cooperation move intermittently. As engagement is a change-oriented strategy, target states will attempt to resist change in certain issue areas while accepting change in others. However, as resistant to change as the target regime may be, engagement forces targets down a path to engagement that is difficult to reverse. As both source and target develop interests in engagement, reforming an adversarial discourse, the prospects for increased cooperation increase. This is despite the risk that the target may attempt to counterbalance cooperation with belligerence in the short-term.

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