North Korea in the Heart of East Asian Tensions

Spring 2021

North Korea in the Heart of East Asian Tensions (5 ECTS)

Level: Master’s level

Language: English

Time:  7.1. – 11.3, 2021 

Organizer: University of Jyväskylä/ Finnish University Network for Asian Studies

Course Instructor:  Pekka Korhonen, Professor of World Politics

Goals: To understand the nature and methods of a particular international confrontation in East Asia, to learn to navigate in information fields imbued with war propaganda, and to acquire the necessary theoretical concepts with which to continue sensibly following the East Asian drama via the mass media and academic studies during the following years.

Contents: The importance of East Asia in the world system has been growing continuously for decades – as everyone has certainly heard. An element of this importance is the military aspect and the possibilities for a major war breaking out in the region. Small and poor North Korea is in the heart of these tensions, both in its own right as a sovereign and in many ways a surprisingly skillful actor, but also as a cover under which other important regional powers, namely the United States, China, South Korea, Russia and Japan play their own political and military games. The course makes an interpretation on what kind of state North Korea is, in light of its surprising staying power over several decades in spite of domestic economic mismanagement and international hostility. Part of the answer is surveillance and repression, but North Korea also has a viable legitimacy structure based on a home-made religion, and its leadership skillfully employs modern media and music in building up a religiously imbued strong nationalistic spirit. Combined with rapid advances in missile and nuclear technology, the North Korean system of organizing its state structure has turned it into a ”small great power”, able to stand against and threaten the Unites States, which is militarily, technologically, economically, politically etc. etc. tens of times bigger and stronger. Partly the explanation for the situation lies also outside of North Korea, in the gradual relative weakening of the United States, the equally gradual relative strengthening of China, and the way lesser powers like Japan, Russia and South Korea play their own games in the unsettled political playing field. The theoretical interpretative tools of the course are taken partly from cultural legitimacy theories and partly from very ugly realist theories, as the subject matter of the course is raw military and political competition.

Taken as: Lecture diary

Application period: November 2–22, 2020.

Please check that your university is a member of the Asia Network in 2021. There might be changes in the membership at the turn of the year.

Go to application instructions. This course has a maximum intake of 60 students. Students are selected in the order of application. The places are divided evenly between the member universities.