Amy Zegart on North Korea’s Kim Jong Un

I’ve followed Stanford’s Amy Zegart since discovering her insightful research on analytical misperception in the United States intelligence community.


Zegart writes in The Atlantic:


Is Kim Jong Un crazy or hyper-rational? Is he bent on destroying America or deterring America? Is his model Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, who averted nuclear war by building a large arsenal and threatening to use it? Or is Kim looking at the cautionary tales of Muammar Qaddafi and Saddam Hussein—two men who lost their power and their lives because American presidents either didn’t believe or didn’t care that they had given up their nuclear weapons programs?

Nobody knows.


Answering these kinds of questions is in part what Jack Snyder‘s original policy work on strategic culture sought to do. It’s also what Jeffrey Lantis and colleagues have done in their policy formulation advice for the Defense Threat Reducation Agency. Finally, Jerrold M. Post has published several political psychology books on individual leaders and how they interact with strategic culture.


Zegart’s insight gives the so-called fourth generation of strategic culture a new relevance: (1) the proliferation of nuclear weapons to nation-states outside the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons; and (2) the crisis decision-making of foreign political leaders who are driven by different ideational factors: beliefs, norms, values, and worldviews.


This will inform post-PhD research.

Future Research: Profiling Vladimir Putin

For several months I’ve been thinking about how Jack Snyder’s original research on strategic culture might be applied to Putin era Russia. John Ehrman’s review of two books from 2012 on Putin suggests: (1) the existence of several organisational subcultures in the KGB; and (2) the existence of folklore and glamour in Russia in the 1960s which may have influenced Putin’s socialisation as a KGB officer in the Andropov era. I see a possible integration of Snyder’s area studies with Jerrold M. Post’s work on the psychological profiling of political and terrorist leaders. Noted for future research.

19th December 2011: Kim Jong-il’s Death

The New York Times reports North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-il died of a heart attack on 17th December 2011.

My 2006 Masters thesis was on North Korea’s covert nuclear weapons program (PDF). I found Kim Jong-il to be a shrewd, rational negotiator able to mobilise national myths (including the Juche philosophy).

I gathered half a bookshelf of North Korea-relevant titles during background research for the project. The Kim Jong-il titles include Michael Breen’s Kim Jong-il: North Korea’s Dear Leader (John Wiley & Sons, Singapore, 2004) and Bradley K. Martin’s Under The Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader: North Korea and the Kim Dynasty (St. Martin’s Press, New York, 2004).

On leadership profiling, see the work of George Washington University’s Jerrold M. Post.