With Kim Jong Il death, shock of the unknown
December 19th, 2011
01:13 AM ET

With Kim Jong Il death, shock of the unknown

By Jill Dougherty and Adam Levine

The sudden death of Kim Jong Il is the "biggest shock you could have thrown into Asia," an expert on North Korea told CNN late Sunday night.

Victor Cha, who worked in White House National Security Council, says one of the likelier scenarios under which the North Korean regime could crumble was the sudden death of Kim Jong Il - and now it has happened.

"No one has any idea of what comes next," Cha said. "We are in unknown territory."

That uncertainty should have people on edge, a U.S. official told CNN's Pam Benson.

"An insecure North Korea could well be an even more dangerous North Korea," the official said.

Kim's son and heir, Kim Jong Un, is simply "not ready" to rule, Cha said.

He is barely 30, and his father began grooming him for the job only three years ago after the latter suffered a stroke.

In contrast, the elder Kim was prepared for his own position over a period of 14 years.

Kim Jong Un holds the rank of general and is second-in-command of the military but did not come up through the ranks.

He was made a general in order to have him in the job so he would be prepared eventually to take over from his father, experts said.

It is likely that Kim Jong Un's uncle, Jang Song Thaek, will rule behind the scenes as Kim Jong Un trains on the job, according to an analysis distributed by Stratfor.

Cha said an important next step will be to watch what happens on the ground in North Korea. But that may prove hard since the state is so reclusive.

Another thing to watch for is whether U.S. troops in South Korea will go on a higher level of alert.

Finally, the role of China is crucial since it is the only country that has any close understanding of what the regime is doing.

Cha said it is likely President Barack Obama will reach out to China, but Beijing often is not willing to share its knowledge with the United States.

Ironically, things were looking calmer in recent months.

The United States was inching back to talk with North Korea, and Pyonyang itself was preparing to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of the Kim Il Sung in April 2012.

The worst case scenario would be chaos in North Korea, Cha said, and the danger of loose nuclear weapons.

The North might also act out in a more belligerent fashion militarily amidst the uncertain transition.

There is also the possibility that Kim Jong Un uses a military action to prove his mettle, observes RAND's Bruce Bennett, an Asia analyst who has worked with the U.S. Department of Defense, as well as South Korean and Japanese militaries.

"North Korean leadership demands appearance of empowerment. Kim Jong Un is going to be tempted to do something to show how powerful he is," Bennett said in a phone interview Sunday night. "It could be testing a nuclear weapon or a missile test."

But Bennett said it is unlikely anything official will become apparent before the mourning period is over.

The funeral, which North Korea's media outlet said will be December 28, could provide a first look at the state of leadership, Bennett said.

Bennett said it took Kim Jong Il three years to consolidate his power.

"The funeral will be important to monitor to see if the people we expect to see in power are still there or will Kim Jong Un purge to show he is in position to do so," Bennett said.

Jong Il’s son has a lot to prove. He was tied to the disastrous effort to revalue the North Korean currency, Bennet said.

That effort led to protests, a shocking development in the closed country and food shortages as people took to bartering in absence of available currency.

As such, it is less likely that Kim Jong Un would set off in a different direction given his entire legitimacy is based on being the heir to his father and grandfather.

"Like the transition from Kim Il Sung to Kim Jong Il, it is likely that North Korea will focus internally over the next few years as the country's elite adjust to a new balance of power," the Stratfor analysis noted. "In any transition, there are those who will gain and those who are likely to be disenfranchised, and this competition can lead to internal conflicts."

Even so, Bennett said this is also a time for the United States to start to probing for any chance the new leader is going to step out from his father’s shadow and try different. While it is unlikely that Kim Jong Un will try anything new, "we ought to try to float things to see."

The analysts at Stratfor say bringing North Korea back to six-party talks is not out of the question.

"Kim's death does not necessarily put an end to recently revived discussions with the United States and others over North Korea's nuclear program. Pyongyang has increasingly felt pressured by its growing dependence on China, and these nuclear talks provide the potential to break away from that dependence in the long term," the Stratfor analysis stated.

Bennett said an Arab Spring-like uprising is highly unlikely in a country like North Korea. However, if Kim Jong Un mismanages the country "the kind of rebellion I could see in North Korea would be among the elites, especially the senior elites," he said.

"At some point in time, the senior leadership would take action. But they would be putting their lives on the line to do that."

soundoff (57 Responses)
  1. Deepak

    Awww. I'm biracial (Asian and withie xD) so I don't have a set race to stick to damn for some reason I'm a little jealous.o_O(..I'm very weird, but yeah. lol)I say so what and date who you want! You mommeh and daddeh will get over it.. eventually.. maybe hopefully My grandparents were apparently against my parents having kids, but.. they did it anyways, and everyone's happy. xD

    August 3, 2012 at 1:02 am | Reply
  2. AlexShch

    What is most remarkable is that NK immediate neighbors - China and Russia - are not concerned at all, while in US it is all over in the news with dozens on analysts expressing all kind of concerns, predicting, and warning about dangers .

    December 19, 2011 at 1:28 pm | Reply
  3. UltimaThule

    The West declared war on the "axis of evil" – Iraq, Iran, North Korea. Interesting that we have in grandiose fashion announced the end of the Iraq war, just at this time. Clearly, it is because our military will be needed elsewhere soon. Plans have been drawn up for NK for a long time now, and we have moles in NK who have kept us updated on Jong-Il's demise.

    Our involvement in the Middle East is all about controlling supply chains and shipping routes of oil, as it relates to a smooth supply and a protected route for *us* – and our control of the supply/route to Russia, China, and to a lesser degree, Europe. Remember the outcry from Russia and China (and Germany, and France) when we first went in to Iraq "unilaterally?" Remember the big oil deals Hussein had with them?

    A unified Korea, with the South's technology/industry, and the North's agriculture/labor is an economic factor too promising for the USA (and China) to sit idly by. The political and financial interests from Washington DC to New York to Beijing to Brussels to Tokyo to Berlin to -you name it- are drooling over themselves for NK to "open up." I would bet a paycheck that if the new kid doesn't open up Dear Leader's closed society now (or within the next year), there will indeed be "boots on the ground." Whose boots depends on the new kid, and what he does or doesn't do, and the deals he does or doesn't strike with his Masters. The US (and China, and Russia, and the EU) will not stand by for another decade to allow another immature knuckleheaded dictator to stand in the way of "progress" (profit).

    We are already at war. It's just waged differently now. It's cyber, it's financial, it's resource-driven.

    I'm not worried about a US-NK war. If this kid was stupid enough to make some move against the US, we would crush them quickly and assume control. That is the last thing China wants. China is no doubt in serious talks with Jong-un as I type. China (NK's Master) will want Jong-Un to lay low and be a good little boy.

    What's feared with the death of Jong-Il is not some pathetic NK show of force; what's feared is a US-China war.

    December 19, 2011 at 12:54 pm | Reply
    • AlexShch

      And why exactly the death of Kim may cause US-China war?

      What is a big deal here, after all? One Kim is out. Another Kim is in. Kim died. Long live the Kim! Not for the fist time after all. hey even look alike! Just replacing one mediocre self-contained dictator with another mediocre self-contained dictator. So what? It is self-contained: not posing danger no anybody, except waisting time of his own people.

      December 19, 2011 at 5:59 pm | Reply
    • AlexShch

      "If this kid was stupid enough to make some move against the US, we would crush them quickly and assume control" - right, in your dreams. You already took control over Afghanistan for the last 10 years. Look what happened there.

      December 19, 2011 at 6:02 pm | Reply
  4. Amelia

    Do we know very much history about his son? Maybe he is a generation x or y'r who will be tired of their country not getting along with other countries and will want to lead in a new way. I doubt it but I guess we could hope for the best. Seems like there are revolutions happening all around the world, maybe this will lead to one too.

    December 19, 2011 at 11:04 am | Reply
  5. total non sense

    time to invade NK and destroy all of it;s military/nuke power once and for all. a headless chicken is easy to kill

    December 19, 2011 at 10:45 am | Reply
  6. billgme

    This is not a question of the US getting involved, we are involved! It is frightening that the most closed society on earth has nuclear weapons and an unknown 28 year old son of a despot is in charge.

    December 19, 2011 at 10:10 am | Reply
  7. Donkey Party

    Nice M4. Somebody should've slipped your pastor a $20 to have held you under longer at your Baptism.

    December 19, 2011 at 9:59 am | Reply
  8. Donkey Party

    CNN, sensationalize much? How "unknown" is it when the same thing happened 17 years ago to Kim Jong Il's father? Remember when you would just report the news, instead of editorializing every single story?

    December 19, 2011 at 9:54 am | Reply
  9. steveo

    I'm not worried... I'm sure he will be a nice young man and treat his people with dignity and respect. After all, isn't that human nature?

    December 19, 2011 at 9:41 am | Reply
  10. BornInUSSR

    Nobody knows? Where is all knowing CIA with its technology, listening posts, agents on the ground? Or you mean CIA is useless. Anyone who used to live in a communist country knows how it works and can tell you what's going to happen

    December 19, 2011 at 9:27 am | Reply
  11. Leslie Lox

    Respectfully, do we really need an expert to tell us that? The same rule applies when we view politics globally. So, because we believe that there is no moral backdrop or consensus that governs us globally or humanly. People say it’s the ethical content threading its way through the Koran, the Torah, the Bible and the principles of Buddhism. Then too, much of this same text is contained in many of the constitutions of nations large and small around the world. The question is, what are we making of it?

    Is this where the recent protests on Wall Street US, in Greece, England and other places actually heading? Is it this ultimate connecting, unifying and humanizing theme that lay in the direction of their protests?

    It’s no small idea.
    Leslie Lox http://www.rdwins.com

    December 19, 2011 at 9:19 am | Reply
    • Shreyaa

      Lisa, I can't believe I will no lngoer have the comfort of your voice and see your smiling face on the Q! Whatever the reason, I am certain that whatever future projects you have will be successful because you give 100 percent, it is so obvious. Hopefully we will see you again or at least be aware of your presence. The best of luck to you and Gino!

      August 3, 2012 at 4:05 am | Reply
  12. joshb

    a whole lot of nothing happens now. The guy was nuts and a power hungry maniac. You don't stay in power as a nutty leader without really nutty people backing you up. Will the next nutcase please step forward. They have a long line of them in place. The only way a country changes is a successful revolution. (not invasion or anything else)

    December 19, 2011 at 9:06 am | Reply
  13. Pik Achu

    ROR, I raugh so hard, my nose breeded.

    December 19, 2011 at 9:05 am | Reply
  14. M4 Skull F_cker

    We need to put boots on the ground and mount a full military offensive. Obama ! Are You listening? These people are haters of democracy. We need to go in and kick ass. After we turn a few million of these squinty eyed bastards into orphans, we should kill the kids too.

    December 19, 2011 at 8:36 am | Reply
    • rmtaks

      So we need to commit to a ground war with North Korea, guaranteeing at least casualties from occupation if not all out war with China -> So we can kill starving people (which can't be done from the air I guess) -> Because we are racists. Very rational and well-thought-out plan.

      December 19, 2011 at 8:41 am | Reply
      • Chris

        Well we are done in Iraq, have to keep those soldiers employed

        December 19, 2011 at 9:00 am |
      • VerboseWater

        I'm hoping M4 was being sarcastic..but who knows. But yep, now that the soldiers are back and the contractors are IN; they have to figure out the next country to rebuild.

        December 19, 2011 at 9:03 am |
    • Mike C

      Wonderful, another $800 billion in debt that we can't afford. In this case though, China won't pay for it, so we would have to beg in Europe, who can't afford it. Why don't you be the first set of boots on the ground and we'll be right behind you...we promise.

      December 19, 2011 at 9:01 am | Reply
    • Gary

      Sorry but the US Military is not going to be fighting another war for a long time. There are so many current draw downs and cut going on that it is almost like the US is saying, "hey... we are done fighting".

      December 19, 2011 at 10:35 am | Reply
      • D G

        Are you implying this is a bad thing Gary? We have no business in most of these countries we are in today. Most of our people, as well as most other countried are tired of us meddling in other countries' affairs. A large portion of our current debt is due to us behaving like we are the world's police force, its time to end that.

        December 19, 2011 at 11:24 am |
    • AlexShch

      ...and interesting innovative idea. Just look around and count the places where people express dislike about democracy. Then divide the number of boots available by the number of democracy haters - Do you still have enough boots to put on the ground?

      December 19, 2011 at 1:35 pm | Reply
  15. Across12

    I will tell you exactly what comes next, a big nothing. Cool down and direct your concerns in another direction, this subject is only food for reporters, no touch with reality. Americans should be more concerned with Mexico than North Korea, that's reality. In the meantime go back to sleep.

    December 19, 2011 at 8:33 am | Reply
    • Sayan Majumdar

      You have discounted nuclear warheads (along with delivery vehicles) on rouge hands.


      December 19, 2011 at 8:36 am | Reply
    • VerboseWater

      100% agree. This is media propaganda...consider the source. If North Korea becomes even a little less of a threat – then our military (not defense) spending goes down in the long run. So the sheep must be roused up.

      December 19, 2011 at 8:59 am | Reply
  16. Bob

    South Korea = Family Own Democrasy

    North Korea Chineese own something...

    December 19, 2011 at 8:09 am | Reply
  17. Bob

    The King is Dead....Short live the King

    December 19, 2011 at 8:04 am | Reply
    • Sayan Majumdar

      Shhhh…….. (Read politically incorrect) He was Dear Leader, King is totally incompatible with communist set up and ideology.


      December 19, 2011 at 8:31 am | Reply
  18. Sayan Majumdar

    At least Kim Jong II was a known devil.


    December 19, 2011 at 8:00 am | Reply
  19. Hangar 13

    I like the comment at the end of the article, "If (he) mismanages the country..." It's a Communist country, dude, it's mismanaged by definition. There was a time when most Americans understood that; unfortunately, from the White House to the Occupy protesters, that basic understanding is lacking.

    December 19, 2011 at 7:52 am | Reply
    • rmtaks

      People without critical thinking skills or a knowledge of history think they understand that. Most countries that became communist were already horrendous places with broken economies before communism, and most somewhat improved or just continued to be equally as horrible. As you can tell by countless failed democracies, simply branding your country as a democracy isn't a magic pill either. In the case of China, the communist government was actually the strongest they had in the better part of a century after their society was shattered by conflict with the west. The world is not black and white.

      December 19, 2011 at 8:25 am | Reply
  20. 2ND Airborne Pilot

    Lets attack them before they attack us. We could make North Korea into a smoking rubble overnight.

    Dear President Obama ..... Please give the order to go in. If You show You have balls here, I will vote for You Sir.

    December 19, 2011 at 7:18 am | Reply
    • jimmer

      its not your fault.....i blame your parents......

      December 19, 2011 at 8:02 am | Reply
      • jimmer

        ..............and you have to be 18 to vote.

        December 19, 2011 at 8:03 am |
      • Angelo

        my parents are open-minded too but they kinda give the vibe that they expcet me to marry a black American dude I wanna marry a foreign guy, African, European, Latino, Asian, i don't care. I just want to have a wicked-cool last name and have kids with 2 different cultures ^^ My AUNT is a racist tho lol I feel sorry for my cousins >_>

        August 3, 2012 at 3:47 am |
    • Bob

      Oh Man... you must had breast feeding issues... or you are just not that smart..

      North Korea is China's dirty worker, anything that demands some dirty work by China is done through North Korea..

      December 19, 2011 at 8:06 am | Reply
    • Jim Miller

      I really hope you are making an attempt at humor here. I served ten years in the Army, served a year with the Second Infantry Division on the DMZ in South Korea, and spent five days inside North Korea in 2009.

      A military attack/invasion of North Korea would be the dumbest thing any U.S. Administration could possible do. There is NO scenario under which this is a good idea. The vast majority of the 24 million North Koreans live a lifestyle we cannot even imaging. The carve a living out of an unforgiving earth. Very little food. An extremely hard existence. The military is the center of their society.

      Add to this that each one of them are raised to hate the United States. We are to blame for every wrong in their lives. An occupation would not go well.

      The best scenario we can hope for is that Kim Jung Un succeeds Kim Jong IL and slowly opens North Korea to the world in a Glasnost/Perestroika fashion.

      The worst case is a move by the military "thugocracy" to seize power, or there is a revolt that descends their society into chaos. Under these scenarios it would be highly likely China would step in, in some fashion, to protect it's strategic (and economic) interests. It does not want two things; 1) 24 million refugees attempting to cross the Yalu river into China, and 2) A U.S. military presence across the 38th parallel (and thus on that same border).

      December 19, 2011 at 8:17 am | Reply
      • rmtaks

        I disagree. I think the worst case is that Un is exactly the same as his father: extremely skilled/dedicated to suppression and staying in power and nothing else, so he continues to starve and bleed his country. While a conflict would be devastating, it would only hurt this generation, not be a plague on many more to come.

        December 19, 2011 at 8:34 am |
      • Jim Miller

        (WOW – do I need a spell check! Sorry for all the typos...)

        RM – I respectfully disagree with you that the status quo (Un acts like Dad) is worse than a military coup or complete chaos.

        December 19, 2011 at 8:40 am |
  21. Joshua

    great article on theruggedgent(dot)com called The Last Bastion of the Cold War; Understanding a divided Korea. It really sheds light onto the situation.

    December 19, 2011 at 4:39 am | Reply
  22. Weeg

    I ar first to see dogey

    December 19, 2011 at 2:50 am | Reply
  23. Seth

    A country like North korea which is has nuclear weapon should have a democratic system and not be a family affair because is easier for them to go to war now. God help them!

    December 19, 2011 at 1:48 am | Reply
    • Starstuff

      Do you mean a 'democratic' system like ours? That doesn't sound too democratic to me. For me democracy is a parliamentary system like European countries with labor, greens, conservatives and yes even communist ans socialist parties forming coalitions to govern.

      I'll say that N Korea already has a similar 'democratic' system as we do.

      December 19, 2011 at 3:27 am | Reply
      • Bob

        Hey South Korea has the only Family own democrasy..

        December 19, 2011 at 8:07 am |
    • Are you drunk or what?

      Read up on "democracy" Starstuff. From your ramblings it's clear that you have no concept of what constitutes a democracy.

      December 19, 2011 at 4:27 am | Reply
  24. Miso Horni

    We are so sad; we have rost our fearress reader!! He rove us rong time.

    December 19, 2011 at 1:31 am | Reply
    • Washed up redneck

      I pity your ignorance.

      December 19, 2011 at 1:59 am | Reply
    • Just Sayin

      You are an idiot.

      December 19, 2011 at 2:21 am | Reply
  25. Victor

    BIG Shock! This man was dying for long time!. This should not have been a big shock. This is the time to have a party and pray that the new leader will be more kind to his people than his father and maybe to the world.

    December 19, 2011 at 1:24 am | Reply

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