The North Korean autocracy in comparative perspective

Wonjun Song, Joseph Wright

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


The North Korean regime is unique among dictatorships because it is both long-lasting and highly personalized. We argue that initial factionalization of the regime, coupled with the presence of multiple foreign backers early in the regime, allowed the first leader to personalize the regime by first wresting power from the military and then subsequently curbing the autonomous power of the Korean Worker's Party. Using a measure of personalism constructed from historical data, we trace the consolidation of personal power in the North Korean regime and compare it to other communist regimes in the region to show how the evolution of personalist rule in these cases differed. We then explain this sequence of personalization in North Korea by showing how regime imposition by one foreign power, the Soviet Union, combined with military backing from a second foreign power, China, incentivized Kim Il-sung to consolidate personal control over the military and internal security apparatus by reducing the threat of military backlash.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)157-180
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of East Asian Studies
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jul 1 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Development
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Political Science and International Relations


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