Jim Jong-il, the authoritarian leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, has died of a heart attack at the age of 69 and is to be replaced by his son Kim Jong-un.
The communist nation of North Korea has been repressed since its division in 1945, emerging as another proxy nation for the grand ideological conflict between the US and the USSR during the Cold War. As a single-party state under a united front led by the Korea Worker’s Party (WKP), the country has been led under a military-first policy which has alienated the people and has led to mass starvation, deprivation and one of the lowest-ranking human rights records of any country. Under Jong-il, the country has been described as a Stalinist dictatorship, illustrating elements of Stalin’s elaborate cult of personality, focus on militarization, nationalization of resource, media censorship, internal purges and public repression. The tension between North Korea and the rest of the world has ben evident in recent years due to its status as a nuclear weapons state and pervasive use of missiles and military in drills, tests and against their democratic neighbor of South Korea. North Korea is the world’s most militarized nation, with a total of 9,495,000 active, reserve and paramilitary personnel; which all have been left to the “Great Successor”, Kim Jong-un, who lack any military or diplomatic experience.
“The issue of primary concern now is not whether North Korea will maintain political stability, but what will be the nature of the new political leadership, and what policies will it pursue at home and abroad. In the short-term, there won’t be new policies, only a stressing of policy stability and continuity. So soon after Km Jong-il has died, no leader will dare say that an alternative policy course is needed.” – Zhu Feng, Professor of International Relations at Peking University
Though the power vacuum of North Korea is to be filled by the not-yet 30-year-old son, Jong-un, there are many that believe that he will not be able to assert and entrench his authority. When Jong-il replaced his father, who had also died of a heart attack at 82, tension within North Korea and against its neighbor South Korea rose sharply. Consequently, Jong-il had additional 2 decades to prepare for such a transition unlike his current son. Moreover, Jong-il had both military and diplomatic experience ; therefore, he was able to appeal to the ruling council of military generals. So saying, Jong-un could use a mutated form of diversionary war to prove his strength and establish his credentials as the rightful leader. Such a move to precipitate a crisis is not out of the realm of understanding considering that in 2010, when Jong-il suffered a stroke, his son sank a South Korea naval vessel and ordered the brief bombardment of a South Korea island. Jong-un is fully capable of conjuring outside threats and externalizing the intelligence and leadership skills that make him suitable to success his father, as well has having a ruthless streak useful to rule a militaristic nation.
“We were distressed to learn of the unfortunate passing of Kim Jong-il and we express our grief about this and extend our condolences to the people of North Korea. We are convinced that with the shared efforts of the two sides, the friendship between the parties, government and peoples of China and North Korea will be strengthened and developed. The Chinese people will always stand besides the North Korea people.” – Ma Zhaoxu, Chinese Foreign Minister
News of the death of the leader whose push to build a nuclear arsenal has left the North heavily sanctioned and internationally isolated, triggered immediate precautionary steps in the region, with South Korea putting its military on high alert. South Korea, still technically at war with the North, placed its troops and all government workers on emergency alert. The White House also issued a statement illustrating their commitment to stability on the Korea Peninsula, as well as to its allies. Since the Korea War, ending with an Armistice Agreement in 1953, the US has kept 28,000 troops on the divided peninsula. China, the North’s neighbor and only ally, has remained supportive and has expressed its confidence in the ability for North Korea to remain united and remain a relationship with its Southern counterparts. North Korea, which clearly violated the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty by testing a nuclear weapon in 2006 and 2009, is seen as the greatest threats to the region’s security.
“Standing in the van of the Korean revolution at present is Kim Jong-un, great successor to the revolutionary cause of Juche [self-reliance] and outstanding leader of our party, army and people. Kim Jong-un’s leadership provides a sure guarantee for credibility carrying to completion the revolutionary cause of Juche through generations.” – KCNA new agency
In retrospect, Kim Jong-un takes over a hermit state whose economy has been decimated by decades of mismanagement under his father who preferred relying on central planning and the brutal suppression of any opposition. Under Kim Jong-il, an estimated 1 million North Koreans died during a famine in the 1990s and even with god harvest, the state cannot feed its 25 million people. Evidently, the stability of the region and chances of insurrection will be played out throughout the long-term.