Washington, December 19, 2011 — Washington, December 19, 2011 - The death of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il has the potential to trigger a new crisis on the Korean Peninsula and in East Asia but could also portend a new opening in relations between the United States and North Korea. CNAS experts offered the following analysis.
CNAS EXPERT COMMENTARY
Dr. Patrick M. Cronin, Senior Advisor and
Senior Director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program
"Kim Jong Il has left North Korea in a period of colossal uncertainty. Uncertainty does not mean collapse anytime soon, but neither does it suggest a quick breakthrough or a leap into conflict. Much depends on an untested new leader. What we know about Kim Jong Eun is that he has less experience, less credibility and less maturity than his father. But the military holds the real reins of power in North Korea, and it will seek to ward off any intervention into its internal affairs. It may also block any rush to the bargaining table through stern warnings and occasional demonstrations of military might. Ensuring peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula is job number one for leaders in Washington and Seoul. In so doing there is also an opportunity to forge a closer relationship with China."
Richard Fontaine, Senior Advisor and Senior Fellow
"2011 has been a bad year for dictatorship, and so it is quite fitting that the Dear Leader has passed the scene before year's end. The demise of the world's most brutal dictator augurs well for North Korea and the world over the long term. What it means over the short term, however, no one knows. In the byzantine world of Pyongyang politics, transitions seem to require saber rattling, missile firing and worse. Now is the time for the United States to stand with its allies in opposition to any forthcoming aggression while making clear to the new regime in the North that a path out of the international wilderness, should they seek it, is possible."
Robert D. Kaplan, Senior Fellow
Anything is possible in North Korea, including the collapse of the state. Nevertheless, as I wrote in 2006 in The Atlantic, "The long-term success of America's basic policy on the peninsula hinges on the willingness of South Koreans to make a significant sacrifice, at some point, for the sake of freedom in the North. But sacrifice is not a word that voters in free and prosperous societies tend to like. If voters in Western-style democracies are good at anything, it's rationalizing their own selfishness-and it may turn out that the authoritarian Chinese understand the voters of South Korea's free and democratic society better than we do. If that's the case, there may never actually be a Greater Korea in the way that we imagine it. Rather, the North's demise will be carefully managed by Beijing in such a way that the country will go from being a rogue nation to a de facto satellite of the Middle Kingdom-but one with sufficient contact with the South that the Korean yearning for a measure of reunification will be satisfied." - "When North Korea falls," The Atlantic, October 2006, by Robert D. Kaplan
Zachary M. Hosford, Research Associate
"Though the death of Kim Jong Il has increased the uncertainty surrounding the stability of the North Korean regime, the alliance between the United States and South Korea is well equipped to face the potential security challenges that may arise. However, given the volatile nature of North Korea, it will be critical that the United States and South Korea continue to work closely to monitor the status of North Korean internal dynamics and military forces. As the failure to successfully transfer leadership to Kim Jong Eun could result in the collapse of the North Korean government, the two allies must simultaneously prepare for multiple contingencies from increased food shortages and refugee flows among the North Korean population to military provocations including additional missile tests and uses of force against South Korea. Clear and constant communication between the two allies will go a long way to helping prevent any further deterioration of security on the Korean Peninsula."
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