Following Kim Jong-Il’s death, I was invited on the radio to talk over my experience there and how I thought the situation would play out. I told a few mildly eccentric stories about the culture, about the golf and school mainly regurgitating what I’d written here but ultimately it’s not much of a laughing matter. Little will change after the death at least not yet. And when it does, it will be from internal implosion, a break from within the elite rather than civil unrest. Civil society doesn’t exist as a movement of power.
The option of outside interference is highly unlikely too unless China pulls the plug and then everything will get very dangerous. I doubt North Korea would react well to that and would turn their focus on South Korea as a means of survival. Only China can truly end this peaceful from outside if there is no internal collapse. And yet it won’t. While the realist argument is that China keep North Korea viable to maintain a buffer with the Americans but there’s a far more practical reason.
Many North Koreans live across the border in China having fled over the ice river that forms the barrier. Its a huge risk. Getting caught could mean being sent along with your entire family to the gulags with 200,000 others. With the border between South and North a huge minefield, a state implosion would send millions of North Koreans north into China. It would be a disaster for social stability and an economic headache. The Chinese state relies on economic success to maintain social stability and its legitimacy. A crisis in North Korea is best avoided or at least contained.
It would be far more effective if the military cadre saw the light but they are equally mired in this so don’t hold your breath. The place would fall like a house of cards if circumstances were right. How China and South Korea would react is fundamental. Even South Korean, used to their nice cars, TVs and first world way of life are making less conciliatory noises to their brethren. Considering how West Germany struggled financially and socially to integrate East Germany and with the South Korean government simply not having the same financial reserves, to hear their fellow Koreans are losing faith would be a huge blow. It’s all pretty crap to be a North Korean.
(I wrote this a few weeks ago but haven’t had time to look at it)