Posts Tagged ‘Kim Jong-un’

Instability in North Korea

February 3, 2010

Efforts by the North Korean government to revaluate the country’s currency and undermine black market trading have led to runaway inflation.  In November of last year, North Koreans were compelled to exchange their old currency for the new one at a rate of 100 to 1.  State-owned stores in one of the few remaining communist nations failed to stock enough goods to compensate for the decrease in purchases from illicit sources, and as a result the price of food has skyrocketed, which in turn has exacerbated levels of malnourishment  and starvation.  There have been reports of protests and turmoil in the isolated communist nation, and government officials are reportedly taking measures to avert an uprising.  The extent of the unrest is difficult to determine because of the limited amount of information that leaks out of the totalitarian state.

Another potential source of instability in North Korea is the upcoming transfer of authority from dictator Kim Jong-il to his son Kim Jong-un, which is anticipated to take place in 2012.  Kim Jong-il has reportedly been in ill health for some time; a fact that may explain why he will soon stepdown.  It is unknown how competent Kim Jong-un will be as a leader, nor is it clear if other top officials in the Communist Party or the military will initiate a power struggle while the change in leadership is occurring.

The international community should have a well-developed contingency plan to deal with the collapse of the North Korean government, especially China, South Korea and the US, which are in the best position to handle the issue.  The odds of such a situation developing in the near-to-medium-term may be low (as noted above, the outside world has a dearth of information about the DPRK), but the event would be disastrous if other powers are unprepared because an immense humanitarian crisis would almost certainly erupt.  The problem could entail massive refugee flows, widespread starvation and illness, large-scale violence and unsecured nuclear weapons.

It is inherently difficult to predict when a revolution will occur.  Few anticipated that the communist regimes in Eastern Europe would disintegrate in the late 1980s, and history provides many other examples of sudden political upheaval.  North Korea’s neighbors and other regional powers may not have much warning before the North Korean government falls, so they must prepare for that eventuality even if it appears that the ruling elites in the DPRK  have firm control over the country; if other nations are caught unprepared, they, and the North Korean people, will suffer the consequences.

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North Korea’s Leadership

May 27, 2009

Officials and North Korea-watchers around the world are wondering about the health of Kim Jong-il, North Korea’s reclusive leader.  A photo taken of him two months ago shows him alive but feeble, and American officials believe that he is declining rapidly.  Some observers think that he wants Kim Jong-un, his youngest son, to be his successor, and possibly have Jang Seong-taek, his father-in-law, temporarily serve as regent.

Kim Jong-il’s death could precipitate a power struggle in North Korea that might involve the military.  A civil war might even erupt and the country could descend into chaos, an event which would have serious consequences for other powers.

For this reason, as well as the fact that the North Korean regime could collapse at any moment because of severe economic problems, the US and its partners in East Asia need to develop a coordinated plan regarding what to do if the communist state implodes.  A flood of refugees could pour into China and South Korea, and North Korea’s nuclear facilities might become insecure.  Other countries might have to step in fill the power vacuum and try to reestablish order.  South Korea and China would be the obvious candidates to occupy all or parts of North Korea if anarchy ensues.  It would probably be best for the US and the Koreans  if South Korea became the occupier and eventually unified the Korean Peninsula politically; however, China might oppose having a strong US ally along its border.  What is certain is that nations in the region need to be prepared for such an eventuality so that they will not have to act haphardly when the situation arises.