The politics of maneuverability: Chinese-Soviet conflict and North Korea

Date of Completion

January 1989


Political Science, International Law and Relations




The purpose of this research was to ascertain how North Korea was able to maneuver itself successfully between China and the Soviet Union. Analysis of the tripartite relationship was based on the following theoretical background of great power-small power relations. When two great powers are in confrontation, each increases its pressure upon a small power in order to keep it within its sphere of influence. Under such circumstances, the small power can exercise only a small degree of maneuverability between the two great powers. As the relations between the great powers improve, however, both powers diminish their pressure upon the small power and begin to cooperate with it in order to maintain the status quo rather than trying to contain it within their sphere of influence. The small power can then expand its freedom of action with weaker pressure from the great powers. Through this process, the small power increases its maneuverability.^ This research tested the hypothesis that the lesser the intensity of the Sino-Soviet conflict, the greater North Korea's maneuverability between the two great powers by comparing three successive periods (1978-81, 1982-84, and 1985-87) that were characterized by the changes in tenor of Sino-Soviet relations.^ The results of this research can be summarized as the following. During the first period of Sino-Soviet conflict, both great powers simultaneously increased pressure on North Korea to bring it into its sphere of influence because North Korea carried a critical geopolitical importance to them. Under these circumstances, North Korea attempted to extract as much support as they could from both great powers by maintaining a balance between them. However, its efforts were constrained by the tension existing between the two great powers. As a result, North Korea's maneuverability during this period was limited. However, as Sino-Soviet relations improved from the beginning of the second period, their pressure on North Korea decreased. Therefore, North Korea could be more assertive in seeking support from the two great powers. As a result, its maneuverability was increased greater amount of political and economic supports from both great as it continued to receive an increasingly greater amount of political and economic support in the second and third period. ^