The Bush Administration and North Korea: Explaining Policy Change through Soft Balancing

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Why did the George W. Bush Administration change its policy toward North Korea from confrontation to accommodation during the second nuclear crisis? This article answers the question by analyzing how and why a coalition—including Bush Administration doves, China, Russia, South Korea and, at times, Japan and North Korea—worked together to overcome the reticence of Bush Administration hawks to engage with Pyongyang. Building on the soft balancing, bureaucratic politics, and transgovernmental coalitions literature, this article explains how the Six-Party Talks served this coalition to understand the extent to which they shared goals and policies. Aware of the divisions within the Bush Administration regarding policy toward North Korea, the five other parties to the talks were able to undermine the preferred policies of U.S. hawks while supporting the policies of doves. Thus, rather than determining Washington’s behavior, this coalition laid the ground for U.S. officials supportive of accommodation to upload their preferences into official Bush Administration’s policy. This article therefore also sheds light on how soft balancing can be used by third parties to influence the decision-making process in the United States.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)333-349
Number of pages17
JournalKorean Journal of Defense Analysis
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2014


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