The Tito-Kim Correspondence: Joining the Movement, 1973-1975
How Tito supported North Korea's entry into the Non-Aligned Movement and Kim Il Sung's efforts to rally the Third World behind his reunification push.
Editor's Note: This is part of a series of postings by Martin Coles analyzing the correspondence between Kim Il Sung and Tito. The introduction to this series can be found here: "Neighbors in Non-Alignment: The Tito-Kim Correspondence, 1973-1979."
Kim’s courtship of Tito began during the preparations for the 1973 NAM summit in Algiers, where a unanimous resolution passed in support of North Korea’s position towards reunification. Tito was instrumental in “changing the atmosphere of the conference” towards the Korean Question, according to one delegate, before lobbying the NAM to approve North Korea’s membership and reject South Korea’s application in 1975.
In February 1973, six months before the summit, Kim wrote to Tito for the first time. He expressed “a desire to even further strengthen and develop the existing relations of friendship and cooperation” between the two countries [Document 1]. Kim thanked Tito for Yugoslavia’s recent support of North Korea at the 27th UN General Assembly before hinting at the upcoming Algiers summit by requesting Tito’s future “active support and solidarity” in their quest for reunification. In July 1973, Kim followed up with an outline of his five-point policy towards independence, asking that Tito take “positive measures” in advance of the following month’s Algiers summit [Document 2]. The policy put forward that all “foreign troops” should withdraw from South Korea. Upon completion, he added, a “North-South Confederation of Koryo” could be established in which both sides would retain their system of government “for the time being” and enter the United Nations as a single entity.
Tito responded in the positive, assuring his counterpart that he and the “peaceful and progressive forces of the world […] felt the weight of the issue” [Document 3]. He added that Yugoslavia would “continue to actively support” North Korea’s efforts to unify the “artificially divided” peninsula and expressed confidence that the non-aligned countries “would do the same.” After the resolution passed, a delighted Kim wrote to Tito to recognize his contribution [Document 4]. “Thanks to the intensive efforts of your country and you personally, Comrade Tito, I truly congratulate you on this,” wrote Kim, judging that the “resolution was a great contribution to accelerating the independent and peaceful reunification of Korea.” With the ever-growing relationship with Tito having produced a public victory over South Korea, Kim soon set about harnessing his newfound support in the Third World.
As Pyongyang celebrated, Kim sought Tito’s counsel regarding a plan to transform the Third World into the dominant power in world politics. In May 1974, within a letter informing Tito of North Korea’s desire to join the NAM, Kim outlined a vision of a new world order in which the Third World could overthrow the might of the US-Soviet blocs [Document 5]. He argued that the First and Second World’s dependence on the Third World’s “rich resources” could be exploited, citing the recent 1973 OPEC oil crisis as an “eloquent” example. “France, Japan, and Canada,” for Kim, constituted examples of “Second World” countries that could be “won over…to form a united front” with the Third World. If successful, the new Third World alliance would “have the final word at the United Nations,” neutralize the superpower-dominated UN, and could even precipitate the formation of a new organization to replace the United Nations. The approval of such a proposal stood to elevate North Korea’s standing within the Third World from a NAM membership candidate to a leadership role alongside Yugoslavia, with the Third World’s future direction driven by the Tito-Kim alliance.
While welcoming North Korea’s bid for NAM membership with the “utmost pleasure” and assuring his counterpart of his “full support” on matters of reunification, Tito rebuffed Kim’s lofty plans to reform the Third World [Document 6]. Tito, recognizing the “shortcomings and imperfections” of the United Nations, wrote that the organization remained an “irreplaceable instrument to preserve peace and international collaboration” for the Third World. Kim did not raise with Tito any further proposals to redesign the international arena and instead focused his efforts on joining the NAM.
Tito’s lobbying was integral in securing North Korea’s membership to the NAM at the Foreign Ministers’ summit in Lima in 1975. With South Korea preparing an application of their own, Kim argued that Seoul’s hosting of US troops and military bases was irreconcilable with the NAM’s position towards neutrality and bloc alignment – a position with which Tito agreed. In February 1975, Kim listed Sri Lanka, India, and Kuwait as countries that Tito should “influence” to support North Korea’s bid for membership [Document 7]. Shortly before the summit, Kim added Indonesia to the list, given Suharto’s upcoming visit to Yugoslavia and his support for a simultaneous admission of North and South Korea [Document 8]. In another boost to North Korea’s international prestige, their application was approved in Lima while South Korea’s was rejected. Kim’s cultivation of close relations with Tito had again bore fruit, as he lavished praise on Tito for his “precious support” in dealing a “hard blow to the imperialists and rulers of south Korea” [Document 9].
Having long supported North Korea’s conception of reunification, Kim’s friendly overtures towards Tito were well-received and met with assistance and counsel. Tito played a pivotal role in helping Kim navigate the Third World, securing the NAM’s unanimous support in Algiers and providing North Korea’s membership status in Lima. Both victories were affirmed by Tito’s non-recognition of Seoul’s Third World credentials and indicated that North Korea were edging ahead in the inter-Korean race to engage the Third World. Yet joining the NAM at South Korea’s expense would prove to be the pinnacle of Pyongyang’s gains. As members of the organization, Kim discovered that the NAM was not united on the Korean Question – even with the support of his ally, Tito.
About the Author
Martin Coles received his MSc in East Asian Relations at the University of Edinburgh in 2018. His work on Yugoslav-North Korean relations won the 2018 Yun Posun Memorial Symposium’s Distinguished Young Scholar Award for best dissertation in Korean Studies. He resides in the Western Balkans where he continues to research North Korea’s involvement in the Third World using the local archives.
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