The death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il on December 17, 2011 has prematurely set in motion the leadership changes that were anticipated in 2012. To be sure, a leadership change in North Korea in 2012 was not a given, but the transitional preparation that was begun in earnest in September 2010 with the naming of Kim’s third son, Kim Jong-un, to a series of leadership positions as the designated successor was expected to continue in a serious vein. Kim Jongun’s arrival so early in 2012 restructures how the remainder of the anticipated leadership changes in Northeast Asia will be viewed. Instead of waiting to see how political transitions in China, South Korea, Russia and the United States might influence the succession process in North Korea, it is the sudden change in Pyongyang that could now have more of an impact in South Korea’s National Assembly election in April and its presidential election in December. While events in North Korea are unlikely to have much of an impact on other leadership changes in the region, it will force U.S. presidential candidates to address a new dynamic when they (however briefly) talk about U.S. policy toward North Korea.