As most people have probably heard, Kim Jong-il died earlier today:
Kim Jong Il, North Korea’s mercurial and enigmatic leader whose iron rule and nuclear ambitions dominated world security fears for more than a decade, has died. He was 69.
Kim’s death 17 years after he inherited power from his father was announced Monday by the state television from the North Korean capital, Pyongyang. The country’s “Dear Leader” — reputed to have had a taste for cigars, cognac and gourmet cuisine — was believed to have had diabetes and heart disease.
North Korea has been grooming Kim’s third son to take over power from his father in the impoverished nation that celebrates the ruling family with an intense cult of personality.
South Korea put its military on “high alert” and President Lee Myung-bak convened a national security council meeting after the news of Kim’s death.
In a “special broadcast” Monday, state media said Kim died of a heart ailment on a train due to a “great mental and physical strain” on Saturday during a “high intensity field inspection.” [Associated Press]
I doubt Kim actually died today and the regime has been waiting for the right time to announce his death. Anyway I expect that some people are going to take his death to mean that the regime will be on the verge of collapse or that they will be more accommodating to demands to denuclearize. As I have always said the regime in North Korea is more then just one man. There is an entire regime elite of people that are dependent on keeping the current form of government in place. I don’t expect much to change in regards to North Korea’s foreign policy. I think they will continue to play the brinkmanship game in return for international aid. The recent deal with the US for food aid in return for suspending their uranium program is a perfect example of this:
The United States is poised to announce a significant donation of food aid to North Korea this week, the first concrete accomplishment after months of behind-the-scenes diplomatic contacts between the two wartime enemies. An agreement by North Korea to suspend its controversial uranium enrichment program will likely follow within days.
A broad outline of the emerging agreement has been made known to The Associated Press by people close to the negotiations.
Discussions have been taking place since summer in New York, Geneva and Beijing. They already have yielded agreements by North Korea to suspend nuclear and ballistic missile testing, readmit international nuclear inspectors expelled in 2009, and resume a dialogue between North Korea and South Korea, according to the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of sensitivity of the negotiations. [Washington Post]
This deal if the Washington Post account is correct allows the North Koreans to get needed aid while at the same time giving up nothing. They will still be developing their nuclear program that is based around plutonium enrichment and still have the option of restarting their uranium program in the future after some manufactured reason is invented to renege on the deal which is what they always do. As far as ballistic missile testing they can just say they are testing a space launch vehicle not an ICBM like they have done in the past. I suspect the North Koreans agreed to this deal because they new Kim Jong-il was on the verge of death and they would need some time to get their house in order before playing the brinkmanship game again. The Obama administration on the other hand gets to pretend that they scored some major foreign policy success just like the Clinton and Bush administrations did. I predicted this was going to happen before the 2012 Presidential election last year. So foreign policy wise I expect the same old North Korea.
Domestically within North Korea I expect that the regime elite will try to prop up the image of Kim Jong-il’s successor his son, Kim Jong-un as much as possible. I am sure that much of the North Korean media focus will be on how Kim Jong-un is such a faithful son to his dad due to his sincere grieving. Kim Jong-il did much the same thing after his father Kim Il-sung died. This will build sympathy for him with the North Korean public. However, don’t expect Kim Jong-un to wield as much power as his dad did, much like Kim Jong-il did not wield as much power as his dad Kim Il-sung did either. So basically the power of one man rule of the Kim family is being slowly drained over time to where I think Kim Jong-un will be basically a figurehead propped up by powerful family members and close friends.
Honestly I hope I am wrong and the whole place collapses like a house of cards but as the past has shown North Korea has survived much worse crisis than this and were able to keep the country going despite expert pronouncements of a pending collapse. They will survive this too, but I think this is just another stress on the regime that is going to ultimately collapse but in slow motion and not the dramatic collapse that many expect.