Guns, Guerillas, and the Great Leader
North Korea and the Third World
Benjamin R. Young


Contents and Abstracts
chapter abstract

The introduction provides a historiographicaloverview of the topic and explains that North Korea's national identity is linked to the Third World.In establishing close ties with the Third World, North Korea forged a national identity as a member of a global community of anti-imperialism and anti-colonialism. Resistance to imperialism worked across national borders and these hardships created a sense of transnational solidarity and comradeship. Additionally, the North Korean regime exported their value system, centered on the principle of national autonomy, to the Third World as a way to enhance their international prestige and recognition. Engagement with the Third World not only bolstered the global status of the Kim family regime but also boosted the DPRK's internal legitimacy as the truly sovereign Korean government.

1 Building a Reputation, 1956–1967
chapter abstract

Chapter One investigates the start of North Korea's Third World policy from 1956 to 1967, which began with Kim Il Sung's domestic power consolidation and subsequent purges. As the DPRK reached out to the world and advocated a self-reliant path to socialist modernity, Pyongyang found natural allies in Jakarta, Havana, and Hanoi. These alliances were based on a shared militant stand towards Western imperialism and a belief in revolutionary socialism. Since all four Third world nations recently defended themselves against imperialist forces, the DPRK, Indonesia, Cuba, and Vietnam found much in common ideologically, militarily, and politically. North Korea demonstrated its material commitment to Third Worldism by assisting the Vietnamese Communists during the Vietnam War.

2 Kimilsungism beyond North Korean Borders, 1968–1971
chapter abstract

Chapter Two investigates the globalization of Kim Il Sung's personality cult and the quixotic dissemination of his sycophantic ideology, Kimilsungism, throughout the Third World during the late 1960s and early 1970s. While Cuba, China, and the Soviet Union's role in fomenting world revolution are well known, North Korea's assistance is lesser known. As a former anti-colonial guerilla fighter himself, Kim Il Sung assisted Third World rebels and insurgents as a way to advance the cause of world revolution. In an attempt to bolster the personality cult of Kim Il Sung, North Korea invested heavily in a public diplomacy campaign during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Pyongyang disseminated Kimilsungism throughout the Third World in the form of newspaper advertisements, photo exhibits, film screenings, free trips to the DPRK, and the establishment of friendship societies.

3 Kim Il Sung's "Korea First" Policy, 1972–1979
chapter abstract

Chapter Three focuses on one of the most successful periods of North Korea's Third World policy from 1972 to 1979. Rather than focus on disseminating its propaganda of Kim Il Sung as a world revolutionary leader, North Korea exported its value system of Juche to the Third World in order to improve the image of the DPRK abroad and promote its version of socialist modernity. When the North Korean government focused on disseminating its core values of national autonomy and anti-colonialism, the image of the DPRK in the Third World improved. North Korea used its improved international status to enter the Non-Aligned Movement, an international body that sought to represent the political interests of the Third World.

4 Kim Jong Il's World and Revolutionary Violence, 1980–1983
chapter abstract

Chapter Four largely deals with the emergence of Kim Jong Il as the central player in the North Korean leadership during the early 1980s. Kim Jong Il's rise gave Pyongyang's Third World policy a more violent character. Rather than foster transnational solidarity, Kim Jong Il used the Third World as a space to undermine his South Korean and American enemies. He also advanced his father's long sought after goal of reunification under the DPRK's terms. North Korea's 1983 assassination attempt on South Korean President Chun-Doo Hwan in Burma devastated the DPRK's reputation in the Third World. As a result, some Third World governments cut all diplomatic ties with Pyongyang. The DPRK increasingly looked at the Third World as a relatively easy place to sell weapons, test its military capabilities, and engage in other nefarious activities.

5 Survival by Any Means Necessary, 1984–1989
chapter abstract

Chapter Five examines North Korea's Africa policy in the 1980s and Pyongyang's hosting of the 1989 World Festival of Youth and Students. As North Korea's economy stagnated, the need for hard currency increased and the façade of self-reliant development was quickly falling apart in this supposed "socialist paradise." As newly established governments in postcolonial Africa looked for arms dealers, cash-hungry Pyongyang was all too willing to send weapons, ammunition, and military equipment to these nations. As a weakening and divided nation that claimed the other half, the North Koreans made one last-ditch effort to gain legitimacy by hosting the 1989 World Festival of Youth and Students. This festival ultimately cost the North Korean government millions of dollars, which may have hastened the downfall of the DPRK economy from modern and industrialized to impoverished and crumbling.

chapter abstract

My conclusion looks at the post-Cold War period and North Korea's legacy in the Third World. The perception of the DPRK as an economic basket case has replaced its once vaunted status in the Third World as modern and industrialized. Recently, North Korea's few remaining allies in the Third World have come under fire from the United Nations and the U.S government for continuing to trade and interact with Pyongyang.