Webcast Recap

To much of the world, North Korea is an impenetrable mystery, its inner workings unknown and its actions toward the outside unpredictable and frequently provocative. Tyranny of the Weak reveals for the first time the motivations, processes, and effects of North Korea's foreign relations during the Cold War era. Drawing on extensive research in the archives of North Korea's present and former communist allies, including the Soviet Union, China, and East Germany, Charles K. Armstrong tells in vivid detail how North Korea managed its alliances with fellow communist states, maintained a precarious independence in the Sino-Soviet split, attempted to reach out to the capitalist West and present itself as a model for Third World development, and confronted and engaged with its archenemies, the United States and South Korea.

From the invasion that set off the Korean War in June 1950 to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Tyranny of the Weak shows how—despite its objective weakness—North Korea has managed for much of its history to deal with the outside world to its maximum advantage. Insisting on a path of "self-reliance" since the 1950s, North Korea has continually resisted pressure to change from enemies and allies alike. A worldview formed in the crucible of the Korean War and Cold War still maintains a powerful hold on North Korea in the twenty-first century, and understanding those historical forces is as urgent today as it was sixty years ago.

Joining Armstrong on the panel as commentator is James Person, Senior Program Associate for the Wilson Center's History & Public Policy Program, and Katharine H.S. Moon, Edith Stix Wasserman Professor of Asian Studies and Professor of Political Science, Wellesley College.

Christian Ostermann, Director of the History and Public Policy Program, will chair the book discussion.

Charles K. Armstrong is The Korea Foundation Professor of Korean Studies in the Social Sciences, Department of History and Director, Center for Korean Research, at Columbia University. He is the author of The North Korean Revolution, 1945–1950 (2003), and The Koreas (2007), editor of Korean Society: Civil Society, Democracy and the State (2006), and coeditor of Korea at the Center: Dynamics of Regionalism in Northeast Asia (2006).

James Person is the Senior Program Associate for the History and Public Policy Program and coordinator of the North Korea International Documentation Project.

Katherine H.S. Moon is Edith Stix Wasserman Professor of Asian Studies and rofessor in the Department of Political Science at Wellesley College. Moon received her B.A. from Smith College, magna cum laude, and her Ph.D. from Princeton University, Department of Politics.  Moon is the author of Protesting America: Democracy and the U.S.-Korea Alliance (University of California Press, 2013) and Sex Among Allies: Military Prostitution in U.S.-Korea Relations (Columbia University, 1997), among other publications on the U.S.-Korea alliance and social movements in Korea and Asia 


  • Charles K. Armstrong

    Global Fellow
  • James Person

    Deputy Director, History and Public Policy Program;
  • Christian F. Ostermann

    Director, History and Public Policy Program; Global Europe; Cold War International History Project; North Korea Documentation Project; Nuclear Proliferation International History Project
  • Katharine Moon

    Edith Stix Wasserman Professor of Asian Studies and Professor of Political Science, Wellesley College