I’ve written quite a bit about North Korea over the years, but let’s start off this morning with Michael Mazza and seven scenarios for the DPRK’s immediate future:
1. Kim Jong-un, Jong-il’s youngest son, steps quickly and easily into his father’s shoes. All goes swimmingly.
2. Kim Jong-il adviser Jang Song-taek acts as regent to the younger Kim and rules effectively while Jong-un continues to hone his chops in Pyongyang.
3. North Korea launches artillery attacks against the South.
4. North Korea tests a nuclear device.
5. Factional in-fighting will prevent any individual or group from exercising effective control.
6. Kim Jong-il’s death was not natural as reported. Kim Jong-un and other members of the Kim family may be next on the hit-list.
7. The additional uncertainty caused by Kim’s death drives segments of an already hungry, malnourished population over the edge. North Koreans head for the Chinese border in droves.
Left out: Another strongman could emerge to replace the Kim dynasty and hold the country together. Probably from the Army, certainly with Stalinesque purges.
Kim Jong Young-un is only 28. We think. We know he was promoted to general recently, and started wearing big boy pants. What has he been doing? Wielding power behind-the-scenes and forging alliances and shooting random ministers to ensure a smooth transition (and keeping) of power?
Again, we just don’t know.
But there certainly doesn’t seem to be any evidence of that. What there is evidence of, is that the Party is losing control in the provinces abutting China. And that corruption has grown much worse, since the Party is low on goodies to hand out to loyal members. Smuggling — goods and humans — is the only thing keeping things going, but even that’s not enough.
So let’s take a look at the scenarios.
Number 1 is what everybody in the Party wants. It’s also almost certainly impossible.
Number 6 strikes me as the least likely. Kim Jong-il had been dying for a very long time. His death was neither sudden nor surprising, so why kill him now, when his presence is the only thing ensuring that your clique remains in power? I’m not saying it’s impossible, but not likely.
Number 4 is a variation on Number 3, and we have to file them both under “anything can happen.” I don’t expect a real shooting war with the South, as that would be a 100% guarantee that the North ceases to exist.
Number 2 is what the Party would accept. Dynasty assured, reliable regent in place. Surely this is what they’ll work for. However, this one might be obviated by Number 5. The economy will continue to slide, forcing the various cliques and circles to fight over a shrinking pie.
So Number 5 would make Number 7 almost inevitable.
Which brings us to my addition, Number 8: Chinese paratroopers in Pyongyang. And pretty much everywhere else, too.