Date of Award

May 2020

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Social Sciences


Margaret G. Hermann


Decision-Making, Foreign Policy, Kim Dae Jung, Korean Politics, Political Leadership, Sunshine Policy

Subject Categories

Social and Behavioral Sciences


South Korea’s engagement policy toward North Korea has a unique potential to contribute to permanent peace on the Korean peninsula by improving inter-Korean relations. However, given Korea’s historical, political, and socio-cultural context, comprehensive engagement has proved difficult. Any South Korean leader who adopts overall engagement strategies vis-à-vis North Korea may face constraints and setbacks stemming from the internal and external environments, including North Korea (the target state), domestic politics, and the United States. During Kim Dae-jung’s presidency (1998-2003), North and South Korea engaged in an unparalleled degree of interaction, reshaping the pattern of inter-Korean relations. President Kim’s Sunshine Policy demonstrated a genuine potential to stimulate limited but momentous behavioral change from North Korea. With a view to elucidating aspects of Kim Dae-jung’s leadership that constituted the primary mechanism for the Sunshine Policy (the What), this study delves into the ways in which personality variables, such as: personal capital; political skills (the Who); beliefs and philosophy (the Why); and leadership traits and styles, perspectives, and motivational perceptions (the How) combined to shape his leadership as it relates to this policy, particularly in terms of procedure and implementation.

A dangerous radical; an exile; a Red; a political prisoner under house arrest; a death-row inmate; the champion of peace, democracy and human rights; the opposition leader; the president of South Korea; and the Nobel Peace Prize laureate. Kim Dae-jung went by many titles throughout his political life. The various titles Kim Dae-jung went by throughout his political life may further the confusion one might struggle with regarding what type of leader he was, or what he was like as a statesman in terms of personality and leadership characteristics.

The Sunshine Policy, Kim Dae-jung’s flagship engagement policy towards North Korea, is arguably the political arena which most reflects his personality and leadership. The analysis in this study therefore delves into these characteristics through the prism of his peace initiative. Grounded on the actor indispensability thesis, which postulates that the removal of one individual’s actions would lead to a significant change in the outcome, my project suggests that Kim Dae-jung served as an agent of change to improve inter-Korean relations at a critical juncture for the South Korean state.

Using the Leadership Trait Analysis (LTA) as a primary methodological tool, the study explores the ways in which Kim Dae-jung played the role of peacemaker amid the constraints constantly imposed by internal and external environments. With respect to policy implementation, Kim Dae-jung’s leadership was consistent across different periods of time and across different types of situations. His profile consistently showed a blend of a set of personality traits: a high need for power, a high in-group bias, and a relationship/process focus. The content analysis also shows that Kim Dae-jung’s leadership was flexible, in that his leadership style shifted from the advocate to the pragmatic in tandem with the changing contextual conditions. The study finds that it was Kim’s perception of the severity of constraints, rather than the source of those constraints, that led to a change in his leadership style. The study also suggests that Kim’s inherently advocate leadership orientations were mitigated, albeit to varying degrees, by an array of personality traits and leadership characteristics which had been shaped prior to his presidency.


Open Access