Politics at the water's edge: The presidency, Congress, and the North Korea policy of the United States

Taehyung Ahn, Florida International University


For all their efforts to avoid a nuclear North Korea, the Clinton and Bush administrations failed to achieve this goal, the most important policy objective of the United States in its relations with North Korea for decades, mainly because of inconsistencies in U.S. policy. This dissertation seeks to explain why both administrations ultimately failed to prevent North Korea from going nuclear. It finds the origins of this failure in the implementation of different U.S. policy options toward North Korea during the Clinton and Bush administrations. To explain the lack of policy consistency, the dissertation investigates how the relations between the executive and the legislative branches and, more specifically, different government types—unified government and divided government—have affected U.S. policy toward North Korea. It particularly emphasizes the role of Congress and partisan politics in the making of U.S. policy toward North Korea. This study finds that divided government played a pivotal role. Partisan politics are also central to the explanation: politics did not stop at the water’s edge. A divided U.S. government produced more status quo policies toward North Korea than a unified U.S. government, while a unified government produced more active policies than a divided government. Moreover, a unified government with a Republican President produced more aggressive policies toward North Korea, whereas a unified government with a Democratic President produced more conciliatory policies. This study concludes that the different government types and intensified partisan politics were the main causes of the inconsistencies in the United States’ North Korea policy that led to a nuclear North Korea.

Subject Area

International Relations|Political science

Recommended Citation

Ahn, Taehyung, "Politics at the water's edge: The presidency, Congress, and the North Korea policy of the United States" (2010). ProQuest ETD Collection for FIU. AAI3431294.