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The Peninsula

My New Year’s Predictions for North Korea

Published December 21, 2011
Category: North Korea

By Jack Pritchard

I am not sure why, but I was listening to a radio psychic for a few minutes last night.  She started off by telling the caller that she had a strong sense that he had a teenage daughter. When told no, he had two twenty-something sons and that one was gay, the psychic explained that, in fact, gay men appeared to her as young females.

This gave me encouragement to put my 2012 predictions down in writing, knowing that if I were wrong I could later twist the facts to fit my predictions in the same manner as the psychic.

Lee Myung-bak may well look back at December 17 as the best birthday he ever had.  Not that he personally is celebrating the death of Kim Jong Il, but that the death will turn out to mark the beginning of the end of North Korea and the beginning of the serious road to reunification.

North Korea has survived on a strict concept of one man authoritarian rule.  Kim Il Sung eliminated rivals and tolerated no dissent.  Kim painstakingly ensured his son learned the art of iron-fisted leadership over a twenty year period.  Even then, when Kim Il Sung died in July 1994, there were concerns that Kim Jong Il might not survive.  But at age 52 and twenty years of practical experience under his belt, he took three years to fully consolidate his power base and then autocratically ruled for the next 11 years until his stroke in August 2008.  Facing his own mortality, Kim Jong Il began a hasty and accelerated plan for succession. He settled on his then 25 year old son as his successor.  Finding the prospect of success low, Kim expanded the National Defense Commission (the ruling body) and named his brother-in-law first as a member and then later as a vice chairman.  Kim appointed his sister and son a four star general and began the process of revitalizing the Korean Workers Party as a counterweight to the military.  Analysts predicted that the process would succeed only if Kim Jong Il lived long enough to cement the paper thin credentials he had bestowed upon his son, Kim Jong Un.

Kim Jong Il did not live long enough to even enjoy his elevation to Number One Dictator in Parade Magazine’s December 18 edition.

The consequences for Kim Jong Un because of his father’s abrupt death will be dire.  He has virtually no practical experience, no individual power base and a system newly designed to weakly function after Kim Jong Il as check and balance between the military, the party and a regent (Jong SongTaek, Kim Jong Il’s brother-in-law).  The problem is that Kim Jong Il elevated the military through his Military First Policy to the point where it is THE power in North Korea and efforts to share power can only come through the diminution of the military – something it will not accept in the mid- to long-term.

There will be a natural and short lived period of public unity in the aftermath of Kim’s death.  However, the consolidation of power and the maneuvering that is going on behind the scenes will come to the surface – probably shortly after the April 15 celebrations of Kim Il Sung’s 100th birthday.  By then, the military will have successfully neutered Jong Song Taek and will be calling all the shots.  At some point the military will cease to find Kim Jong Un useful as the public face of continuity of the Kim dynasty and he too will vanish from public view.

Under these circumstances the military may be able to exert enough control to maintain a semblance of stability, but not for long.  At some point in the next 12-24 months, the underpinnings of control will come undone, followed by a rapid collapse of North Korea as we know it and movement toward reunification.

2012 will be a year worth remembering.

Jack Pritchard (aka Carnac the Magnificent 2nd). The views expressed here are his own.

Photo from expertinfintry’s photostream, flickr Creative Commons.

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