Editor's Note

Won Gon Park, Chair of the EAI Center for North Korean Studies (Professor at Ewha Womans University), argues that North Korea utilizes its “new Cold War” rhetoric for two objectives: 1) to criticize US military buildup and its DPRK policy, and 2) to enhance the legitimacy of its possession of nuclear weapons by exploiting the geopolitical competition. Further, he claims that North Korea characterizes the Cold War as a clash between liberalism and authoritarianism in an effort to appeal to and garner support from China and Russia. However, Dr. Park assesses that while North Korea, Russia, and China may temporarily cooperate against the US as their common enemy, the nature of their “political marriage of convenience” complicates the likelihood of a sustained alliance. Finally, Dr. Park predicts that the new Cold War system that Pyongyang envisions is unlikely to come to fruition.

At the 6th Plenary Session of the 8th Central Committee of the Workers Party of Korea (WPK) in December 2022, General Secretary of the WPK and Supreme Leader, Kim Jong Un, shared his view of the current global order, noting that “the structure of the international relations has clearly transitioned into a new Cold War system and faces the accelerating current of multipolarization.” [1] With prospects of a new Cold War emerging from the intensification of Sino-US competition and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, North Korea has quickly adopted the “new Cold War” slogan. This article aims to understand how North Korea defines and perceives the international order, as well as examine its underlying intentions, with particular attention to North Korea’s understanding of the “new Cold War” and “multipolarization.”


North Korea’s Perception During the Cold War and the Initial Post-Cold War Era


During the Cold War, North Korea primarily adopted the binary worldview of a battle between the liberal bloc and its opposing forces. The liberal Western bloc revolved around the United States, while the Soviet Union was at the center of the “international democratic” Eastern bloc. Yet, as the divide between China and the Soviet Union began in earnest during the 1960s, North Korea established Juche, or self-reliance ideology, advocated sovereignty, and employed “pendulum diplomacy,” whereby Pyongyang would oscillate between Beijing and Moscow to maximize its strategic interests. The North’s perspective became evident during the 5th Party Congress in November 1970, during which North Korea laid out the principles for its foreign policy. North Korea emphasized its desire for independence by rejecting Soviet modern revisionism as a deviation from Marxism-Leninism and Chinese dogmatism as unscientific and obsessed with adherence. Criticizing great power chauvinism as embodying imperialist traits, Pyongyang declared that it would instead pursue a self-reliant diplomatic strategy, reflecting its Juche ideology. [2]


As the Cold War unraveled after the collapse of the Soviet Union, then-Supreme Leader Kim Jong-il upheld this self-reliance ideology and began to pursue Songun or “military-first” politics. By adopting a siege mentality based on military encirclement by hostile forces such as the US and South Korea, Kim sought to utilize the “rally around the flag” effect to justify his Songun politics, as well as utilize this worldview to overcome the demise of the Communist bloc and the Arduous March of the 1990s.


The Kim Jong Un Era


The perception towards the international order that Kim Jong Un held during the early days of his rule seemed to be not much different from that of his father: North Korea’s antipathy towards the imperialist powers, especially the United States, would remain intact, while self-reliance would continue to be central to the North’s foreign policy strategy. However, the principles of peace and friendship, two other pillars of North Korea’s foreign policy, have changed due to certain circumstances. During the transition from 2012 to 2013, not long after Kim Jong Un’s inauguration, North Korea’s joint New Year’s editorial emphasized that the North will “strive to develop relations of friendship with countries that respect our country’s sovereignty.” Aimed at the United States, North Korea further stated that it “will not be humiliated by sitting on the negotiating table with a country that makes nuclear threats.” [3]


North Korea’s tendency to emphasize the irrationality of the existing international order and norms has also increased. By doing so, North Korea has sought to increase the legitimacy of its nuclear programs and resist imposed sanctions. For instance, after launching a long-range missile in April 2012, North Korea insisted that it “will continue exercising the independent right to use space recognized by universally accepted international laws which are above the UNSC resolutions.” [4]


A new Cold War and Multipolar Mentality


North Korea began invoking the “new Cold War” theory in the late 2000s. Criticizing US military buildup plans, particularly its missile defense, advanced fighter aircraft programs, and nuclear capabilities, North Korea claimed that these developments would raise the possibility of a “new Cold War,” further claiming that “many countries around the world are watching with caution.” [5]


North Korea’s “new Cold War” thesis, which has anti-US undertones and is closely linked to prospects of multipolarization, has Marxist determinism roots. In a commentary titled “Background for the Emergence of the new Cold War Theory” published in 2008, North Korea developed several arguments. First, it critiqued the Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union as being an “unjustified competition between superpowers,” claiming that it “does not wish to see a repeat of the Cold War.” Despite this wishful thinking, however, it recognized that the United States was faced with a “trend of multipolarization,” whereby its “status as a sole hegemon” was being challenged by “great powers such as Russia.” Furthermore, it defined multipolarization as “a process of democratization of international relations and a step forward in history.” This contrasts with unipolarity, defined as a “reactionary historical force aimed at the fascistization of international relations.” Therefore, it predicted that “the anachronistic Cold War-era politics of the United States will encounter mankind’s progressive resistance and meet its inevitable demise.” [6]


Around the time of the 2008 financial crisis, North Korea believed that the US’ post-Cold War unipolar moment was beginning to face challenges from countries such as China and Russia, creating a trend toward a multipolar world order. To maintain the unipolar global order and in response to rising competitors, the US continued its Cold War policies, such as utilizing the war on terrorism as an excuse to strengthen and expand NATO. The prediction that the United States will fail despite such efforts evinces North Korea’s belief in historical determinism mixed with optimism. While North Korea has remained critical of both unipolarity and the advent of a new Cold War, it views multipolarity as the desirable global order.


North Korea raises the case that the new Cold War consists of two layers of conflict. On the first layer, North Korea sees itself as equal to the United States, which is to say that the Cold War dynamics between the United States and the Soviet Union are transposed to the New Cold War dynamics between the United States and North Korea. For instance, the US measure to strengthen deterrence vis-à-vis North Korea is characterized as “an anachronistic and reckless behavior that will drive forth a new Cold War.” [7] The second layer of conflict is perceived to be between the ROK-US-Japan trilateral relationship and the so-called “northern triangle” of North Korea, China, and Russia. In a 2011 article titled “Tensions of a Cold War in Northeast Asia,” North Korea claimed that “the United States, by creating a trilateral military alliance with South Korea and Japan, has tried to maintain its strategic advantage against China and Russia, triggering a new Cold War in Northeast Asia.” [8]


The perception that the new Cold War was forthcoming changed with the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022: now, the Cold War was fully revived. North Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been issuing statements defending Russia and lambasting the United States up to three times a week. The claims suggest two things: that the West’s disregard for Russia’s legitimate security concerns instigated the war and that the West has intensified its anti-Russian hostilities through its massive supply of weapons and by imposing sanctions. North Korea emphasizes that the war has entrenched the division between the West and its counterparts.


This rhetoric has been echoed by none other than Kim Jong Un himself, who declared during the aforementioned December 2022 6th Plenary Session of the 8th Central Committee that the global order has shifted towards a new Cold War and a trend towards multipolarization. Kim argued that the US is “creating an Asian military bloc in the likes of NATO under the pretense of strengthening the alliance” and that the “military dynamics and activities” of hostile forces, including South Korea, were what was primarily fueling this change. [9] Noticeably, Kim also claimed that the ROK-US-Japan trilateral cooperation was at the center of the new Cold War. [10] Supporting his claims of multipolarization are the cases of emerging economies such as BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which “challenge the unipolar economic system” led by the US and “realize the mutlipolarization of international economic relations.” [11] In particular, North Korea identifies Australia-United Kingdom-United States (AUKUS), Partners in the Blue Pacific (PBP), Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD), and the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) as “byproducts of the New Cold War” [12] while also identifying China, Russia, and Iran as members of their own bloc. [13]


The Backdrop of the new Cold War Worldview and its Limitations


North Korea’s invocation of the new Cold War aims to criticize the US military buildup and its North Korean policy. Since the late 2000s, US measures to improve deterrence against North Korea, such as selling arms to South Korea or developing and deploying advanced military capabilities, have been labeled by Pyongyang as “anachronistic policies” of “the new Cold War.” [14] Notably, US-ROK joint exercises and the deployment of US strategic assets in South Korea are characterized as Cold War-style policies for “posing a threat to the peace in the Korean Peninsula and the rest of Northeast Asia.” [15] This proclivity has persisted, with the North criticizing US military buildup in the region under the Indo-Pacific strategy as “an anachronistic foreign policy of the United States to pursue hegemony through superiority of force and dangerous military activities, bringing the dark clouds of a new Cold War to the Asia-Pacific region.” [16]


North Korea has made an example out of the war in Ukraine, which has “intensified the new Cold War and its dynamics” to frame its desired outcome. [17] It has defined the Russian invasion of Ukraine as legitimate to “defend its sovereignty, territorial integrity, and core interest” and Western sanctions against Russia as a “pressure campaign” as well as “hostile policies.” [18] By doing so, it projects its goals of “territorial control” of the Korean Peninsula and the removal of sanctions onto Russia.


In summary, by upholding its discourse on the new Cold War, North Korea is attempting to justify its nuclear program as a legitimate choice it must take in an increasingly factionalized world. While doing so, North Korea continuously seizes opportunities to criticize the dysfunctional state of the UN Security Council –which has been particularly dysfunctional since the onset of the War in Ukraine- and attempts to undermine the legitimacy of those who oppose North Korea’s nuclear program. Moreover, by labeling South Korea, the United States, and Japan as a trilateral alliance, North Korea seeks to garner additional support from China and Russia by virtue of being in the same bloc. North Korea also emphasizes that sanctions against North Korea are futile due to the advent of a new Cold War. North Korea’s claims that “sanctions of the United States cannot be a solution” and that they extend their “full support to the Russian government and people in their struggle against the anachronistic sanctions of the United States further illustrate this point. [19]


However, the new Cold War system and the trend toward multipolarization that North Korea envisions have yet to come to fruition. Arguably, the new Cold War is far from full emergence since it lacks the ideological cohesion and factional insulation that existed during the Cold War. Unlike the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, a new Cold War, typified by the confrontation between liberalism and authoritarianism, is rife with ideological disparities, let alone differences in political systems. Moreover, the insulation that the Communist and liberal bloc enjoyed during the Cold War is not as evident today. The United States and China cannot be completely decoupled in other sectors, such as the economy. In particular, it remains unclear whether solidarity among North Korea, China, and Russia would remain durable and whether the three countries could function as a single “operational staff.” While the three countries can unite under the threat of their common enemy, the United States, they have only enjoyed a marriage of convenience throughout history, fraught with distrust. Thus, although North Korea fervently heralds “the advent and the intensification of new Cold War,” these prospects are still grim. ■



[1] Press Release of 6th Plenary Meeting of 8th WPK Central Committee, Rodong Sinmun, 2023.1.1


[2] Byoung Ho Choung, 2013, “Juche (Self-reliance) Ideology and North Korea`s Foreign Policies -With Special Reference to Impacts of Basic Ideological Conditions on Foreign Policies-.” The Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences 21, 4(1), 34.


[3] Bohyuk Suh, 2014, “The Kim Jong Un Regime’s Mixed Diplomacy: Military First or Economy First.” North Korea’s Politics and Diplomacy Under Kim Jong Un, ed. Seongji Woo, 280. Seoul: Hanul,


[4] Foreign Ministry’s Rejection of the UNSC Chair’s Statement [조선외무성 유엔안보리 의장성명 배격(in Korean)], Korean Central News Agency, 2012.04.17


[5] The New Cold War and its Main Culprit [새로운 랭전과 핵전쟁을 몰아오는 주범(in Korean)], Rodong Sinmun>, 2007.7.10.


[6] The Background of the New Cold War [새로운 랭전론이 대두하게 된 배경(in Korean)], Korean Central News Agency, 2008.6.7.


[7] The Anachronistic Behaviors that Bring Forth a New Cold War [새로운 랭전을 몰아오는 시대착오적인 망동(in Korean)], Korean Central News Agency, 2010.9.14.


[8] Tensions of a Cold War in Northeast Asia [랭전의 긴장도가 높은 동북아시아(in Korean)], Korean Central News Agency, 2011.1.20.


[9] Press Release of 6th Plenary Meeting of 8th WPK Central Committee, Rodong Sinmun, 2023.1.1


[10] Press Release of 6th Plenary Meeting of 8th WPK Central Committee, Rodong Sinmun, 2023.1.1


[11] Multipolarization of International Economic Relations Further Stepped up, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, 2022.8.7.


[12] “What is the Goal of Forming PBP?”, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, 2022.7.5.


[13] Australia Has no Qualification to Talk About Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, 2023.1.31


[14] Minju Chosun: The United States’ Anachronistic New Cold War Policies- Intelligence Strategy Report[민주조선《시대착오적인 미국의 신랭전정책》-《정보전략보고》(in Korean)], Korean Central News Agency, 2009.9.29.


[15] The Anachronistic Behaviors that Bring Forth a New Cold War [새로운 랭전을 몰아오는 시대착오적인 망동(in Korean)], Korean Central News Agency, 2010.9.14


[16] Main Culprit in Aggravation of Regional Situation, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, 2022.9.19.


[17] The “New Cold War” and South Korea’s New Administration (I) / Blindly Following the Mastermind Behind the Conflict, Choson Sinbo, 2022.5.10


[18] Russian Vice Foreign Minister Condemns Japan for Heading into a Military Power, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, 2023.1.16.


[19] Last-ditch Attempt by a Loser, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, 2022.7.10.



Won Gon Park is a Professor in the Department of North Korean Studies of Ewha Womans University. He received his Ph.D. from the Department of International Relations at Seoul National University. He studied the ROK-U.S. alliance and North Korea for 18 years at the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses. He has previously served as a professor of international studies at Handong Global University. Currently, he is a member of the Policy Advisory Committee of the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs. His primary research areas include the ROK-U.S. alliance, North Korean diplomacy and military affairs, and international relations in Northeast Asia.



Typeset by Junghoo Park, Research Associate; Christopher Welsh, Intern; Sukjin Yoon, Intern
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