Pressure for Pressure: North Korean Strategic Culture and the Risks of Policy Blowback



Van Jackson, Senior Lecturer, Victoria University of Wellington; Defence and Strategy Fellow, Centre for Strategic Studies Wilson Center; Global Fellow, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars

Date and Time

January 30, 2019 12:30 PM - 2:00 PM


RSVP Required.


Philippines Conference Room 
Encina Hall, 3rd Floor 
616 Serra Mall, Stanford, CA 94305



A Special Seminar Series

RSVP required by January 29, 2019 to:



ABSTRACT: How does North Korea think about coercion—that is, threats and the use of force to achieve political goals? The answer affects not only the kinds of “sticks” to employ as part of North Korea policy, but the potential cost of using sticks or pressure at all. In this presentation, Jackson argues that part of North Korean strategic culture—specifically its beliefs about coercion—helps explain a durable pattern in its foreign policy and crisis bargaining history: generating deliberate friction with adversaries despite the risk of its own destruction. This presentation will explain the offensive and reputational underpinnings of how North Korea thinks about coercion, detail how this aspect of North Korean strategic culture helps us make sense of its foreign policy history, and explore the implication of this set of beliefs for recent North Korea policy. It will argue that the policy of “maximum pressure,” and its “strategic patience” antecedent, both contained implicit assumptions about North Korean behavior at odds with the historical record— assumptions that were blind to the risks of blowback they were generating.

PROFILE: Van Jackson is a senior lecturer in international relations at Victoria University of Wellington, the defense and strategy fellow at the Centre for Strategic Studies, and a global fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. He is also a senior editor with War on the Rocks and an associate editor with the Texas National Security Review. Jackson's first book, with Cambridge University Press, was Rival Reputations: Coercion and Credibility in U.S.-North Korea Relations (2016). His second book, just out and also with Cambridge University Press, is On the Brink: Trump, Kim and the Threat of Nuclear War (2018). He is a former Council on Foreign Relations International Affairs Fellow. From 2009-2014, Jackson held positions in the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) as a strategist and policy adviser focused on the Asia-Pacific, senior country director for Korea, and working group chair of the U.S.–Republic of Korea Extended Deterrence Policy Committee. He was a contributor to the 2013 Strategic Choices Management Review, the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review, and OSD’s implementation of the U.S. policy of rebalancing to the Asia-Pacific. He started his career as a Korean linguist in the U.S. Air Force.


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