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Monday, December 19, 2011

More on North Korea

Night Watch for the night of 18 December 2011 gives us some insight into the situation in North Korea:
North Korea: Kim Chong-il died on 17 December, according to a broadcast about 0300 on 19 December.  The official notice stated,
Kim Chong-Il, general secretary of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK), chairman of the DPRK National Defense Commission and supreme commander of the Korean People's Army, passed away from a great mental and physical strain at 08:30 December 17, 2011, on a train during a field guidance tour.

The WPK Central Committee and Central Military Commission, DPRK National Defense Commission, Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly and Cabinet released a notice on Saturday informing the WPK members, servicepersons and all other people of his passing away.

All party members, military men and the public should faithfully follow the leadership of comrade Kim Jong-un and protect and further strengthen the unified front of the party, military and the public,
the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported.  The cause of death was a heart attack, which occurred while he was on the train, according to a later official report.

A funeral for Kim Chong-il will be held in Pyongyang on 28 December and Kim Jong-un will head the funeral committee, KCNA said.

Comment: After the stroke in 2008, Kim began making the arrangements to provide for a relatively smooth leadership transition, to the extent he could.  His brother-in-law Chang Song-taek is the regent for the third son and heir-designate, Kim Jong-un.  Jong-un was promoted to a four star general, despite no military service. He was identified as successor in internal indoctrination campaigns, traveled with his father and the two attacks against South Korea in 2010 were attributed to his "leadership."  All the key people, including Chang and Kim Jong-un, have the positions, authority and rank to take charge and take command.

Nevertheless, the succession is weak because the new key people have no direct ties to the three wars - the anti-Japanese war before World War II; World War II, and the Korean War, which has been the cachet for leadership - and have no military training or experience.  Kim Jong-un, in his mid-20s, officially is a four-star general, which some real generals and marshals reportedly resent.  The North is fundamentally a military-backed regime that has multiple factions.

Succession in a communist state always is a dangerous time. There are immediate and longer term grounds for concern.

Most immediately, North Korean armed forces probably are at semi-war state of alert to ensure a prompt response in the event any enemy attempts or is perceived as attempting to take advantage of a period of grief or judges the North is weakened by leadership change. South Korean forces also are on alert against uncertainty and unpredictability in the North.

The longer term concern is the pressure on the new leader to prove himself.  Kim Chong-il lived under the shadow of his father, who filtered the pressure during the transition in the early 1990's.  But it is worth recalling that Chong-il's most sensational achievements were to oversee North Korea's emergence as a nuclear armed state, so it claims, and its proliferation of ballistic missiles, deeds Kim Il-sung never accomplished. The son surpassed the father in military technology.

On the other hand, Kim Chon-il's legacy as a builder of a prosperous North Korea is no better than that of his father.  Most of his civil construction and development projects have been failures.  Thus, North Korea has a nuclear weapons program and a million-man armed forces, but cannot feed itself. Father and son are responsible for this condition.

The great unfinished work of the Kim Il-sung, the father of North Korea, and his son is the reunification of Korea. The third son and successor will be under pressure to outdo his father and grandfather.  Continued vigilance by the Allies will remain essential.
Note the phrase "Nevertheless, the succession is weak", which suggests that there will be problems along the way.

And, this comes just as we in the US are preparing to provide food aid to North Korea:
North Korea-US: Yonhap News Agency reported on 17 December that the United States has agreed to provide up to 240,000 tons of food aid to North Korea in return for North Korea's pledge to implement initial denuclearization measures, including suspension of its uranium enrichment program.  According to unidentified diplomatic sources, the agreement resulted from meetings in Beijing on Thursday and Friday between US special envoy on North Korean human rights Robert King and Ri Kun, Director General for North American affairs in North Korea's foreign ministry.

The food assistance will be delivered in shipments of 20,000 tons each during the next 12 months.  The North apparently also agreed to accept closer monitoring of distribution so that the food is not diverted to the military.

The United States and North Korea also are expected to hold another round of high-level talks on Thursday next week to help resume the six-party talks on Pyongyang's denuclearization, which were last held in late 2008.

Comment: The six-party talks involving the two Koreas, the United States, China, Japan and Russia have been deadlocked since late 2008.  Progress in talks will be delayed by the death of Kim and the funeral rites.  Those provide a unique opportunity for the US to show good will by sending a delegation to the funeral, even of an enemy leader.  For example, former Secretary of State Albright and former President Carter have the credentials because they both visited Pyongyang.
Now is not the time (for the US) to be bellicose.  Now is the time to pour oil on troubled waters.  There will always be time for firm action later on.  There is no need to rush it at this time.

Regards  —  Cliff

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