Can the North Korean regime survive Kim Jong Il?

Gause, Ken E.
June 2008
Korean Journal of Defense Analysis;Jun2008, Vol. 20 Issue 2, p93
Academic Journal
This paper analyzes several leadership scenarios that might unfold in the wake of Kim Jong Il's sudden death or removal from power. Over the past year, the North Korean leadership has undergone numerous changes as key figures in the regime passed away, were purged, or retired (actively or figuratively). Whether this constitutes a generational turnover inside the leadership is open to interpretation. In addition, key institutions, such as the National Defense Commission, have been reconfigured in what appears to some as a step toward preparing the regime for the eventual post-Kim succession. At the same time, the regime is fraught with competing individuals and institutions that might play a role in determining the new leadership configuration. Besides examining the most popular scenario, dynastic succession, this paper examines the possibility of other scenarios, such as the rise of a military strongman, warlordism, collective leadership, as well as the likelihood that the regime will collapse. This paper argues that unless Kim Jong Il's prophesy to live to age 90 comes true, North Korea could face an uncertain, and potentially contentious, succession in the coming years. Predicting the outcome of this succession is not easy given the various factors that might be in play at the time of Kim's demise or removal from the political scene. One thing that seems clear is that the 1994 succession following Kim Il Sung's death holds few insights into the next succession. Only if Kim Jong Il were to live another 10 to 20 years is the likelihood of a smooth dynastic transfer of power a strong possibility.


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