Decisionmakers May Unite Behind Kim

Disunity within North Korea's leadership could bring down the regime.
A commentary by Andrei Lankov
2011-12-19
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North Korean leader Kim Jong Il's son Kim Jong Un (R) watches a gymnastic performance on the 65th birthday of the Workers' Party of Korea, in an official photo released on Oct. 9, 2010.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Il's son Kim Jong Un (R) watches a gymnastic performance on the 65th birthday of the Workers' Party of Korea, in an official photo released on Oct. 9, 2010.
AFP Photo / KCNA via KNS

First, it is too early to say anything about Kim Jong Un’s policies.

He was first presented as the likely successor to his father just one and a half years ago, and he has not become associated with any particular set of polices, even though there are some minor hints that he is, possibly, a hardliner.

However, it seems that Kim Jong Un will continue the father’s line without much change—at least, for the first few years.

He is likely to be supervised and supported by the old guard, people in their 70s and even 80s. Even if he strongly dislikes them, for the next few years he will be unable to challenge them, since their support is vital for his political and even physical survival.

Needless to say, these people do not want any change and see change as dangerous.

Challenge

One cannot rule out that somebody will challenge the new leader, but I am inclined to believe that the North Korean decisionmakers will remain united, since their disunity might bring the regime down, and they know it.

They have long ago learned the famous saying: “If we do not hang together, we will be hanged separately”

Therefore, if nobody dares to challenge Kim Jong Un’s succession in the next few days or weeks, we are likely to have a relatively smooth transition and then more of the same.

Things may start changing once Kim Jong Un is in full control and feels himself independent of the old advisers/protecters (it might take a few years). Nonetheless, he does not look like a liberal leader.

South Korea

Kim Jong Un’s approach to the South is a different matter.

Unfortunately, it will pay for him to be tough on this stage, so the probability of provocations in the near future will increase.

I thought that the next year would be quiet. Well, I am not sure now, when Kim the Third might feel the need to show to his generals that he is not a softie.

But, of course, he will try not to cross the red line: like his father, he probably understands that in the case of a full-scale war, North Korea will be defeated in no time.

Andrei Lankov, a professor at Kookmin University in Seoul, is a Russian historian, North Korea expert, and regular RFA contributor.

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