Death of Kim Jung Il May Spark Power Struggle

Posted: Dec 20, 2011 12:01 AM

The highly unpredictable, secretive, and nuclear armed leader of North Korea, one of the most oppressive regimes on the planet, has died.  News of the “dear leader” Kim Jong Il’s death immediately set off speculation and concern of “now what?” around the world.

“Mr. Kim died Saturday of a heart attack while on a train, North Korea's state media said,” reports the Wall Street Journal. “A television news announcer, dressed in black and her voice quivering with emotion, said Monday the nation would unite behind Kim Jong Il's third son, Kim Jong Eun, as North Korea's new leader.” 

The likely successor, the twenty-something third son Kim Jong Eun, is almost completely untested, inexperienced and unknown; a most troubling thought in a closed society with nuclear capabilities.  The concern that Un may feel compelled to flex his nuclear muscles and make his leadership mark immediately understandably has South Korea and other neighboring countries on alert.  A missile launch today in North Korea added to the tensions, but reportedly is unrelated to Il’s death.  The U.S. also has more than 25,000 troops stationed on near the border. 

Form the New York Times:

Word of Kim’s death sent shock waves through North Korea’s Asia neighbors and reverberated around the world, reflecting the unpredictable outcome of an abrupt leadership change in one of the most opaque and repressive countries. North Korea is technically still at war with South Korea and the United States after nearly 60 years and has few friends besides China.

South Korea immediately put its armed forces on a high state of alert, and the South Korean news agency Yonhap reported that North Korea tested an unspecified number of short-range missiles on Monday morning. The news agency said the tests were conducted before the announcement of Mr. Kim’s death. The Defense Ministry in Seoul said it could not comment on the report.

Some foreign policy experts worry that the North Korean military may reject the youthful Eun, and spark an internal power struggle.  Such further possible instability increases even more the concern about the control, sale, and distribution of North Korea's nuclear technology and the possibility of military mobilization in an already unpredictable society on the Korean Peninsula and adds to an already tense planet. 

For more on the ramifications of the death of Kim Jong Il, we refer you to this STRATFOR brief

Additional information is can be found in this Wall Street Journal feature article, and another from the New York Times