Kim Jong-il is dead. Few outside of northern Korea will mourn him (and of those inside who do, I would suspect most do so out of fear of arrest if they don’t). This has led more than a few to ask: what is next for northern Korea? The answer is this: not much of a difference.
That answer will certainly surprise some people, who would think that no one could be worse than Kim Jong-il. This assumption misses several important factors.
First, a regime is always more than one man. Millions have heard of Joseph Stalin, yet few remember Beria, Molotov, or the blood on Nikita Krushchev’s hands. Osama bin Laden’s death did not destroy al Qaeda (although it has been weakened by his passing). The Ba’athist regime in Iraq predated Saddam Hussein’s rise to power, and some of his highest-ranking psychophants are fighting the current Iraqi government today. Kim Jong-il relied on a vicious and brutal military to rule, and groomed his son only too well to match his cruelty (Corner – NRO).
Secondly, Kim did exactly what the Chinese Communists wanted him to do – namely, bring America to the table and extract concessions from her. Despite a slew of leaks supposedly expressing frustration from Beijing at Pyongyang (all of them dutifully reported by media entities drunk on the “engagement” Kool-Aid), Kim was never once truly brought to heel, and for good reason. Every dollar Kim extracted from the Americans freed up 6-8 Chinese renminbi that went to Iran, Syria, various terror groups, or the PLA. If anything, Kim III will be weaker than his father, and thus even more beholden to his de facto colonial administrators. He will do their bidding.
Finally, and most importantly, the free world is weak in northeast Asia, and our enemies know it. Japan is in political flux, again (and I’m being euphemistic); the United States is distracted and uninterested (in contrast to Southeast Asia, where the president is very engaged); and Canada has never been included in the mix. Only South Korea remains concerned, and that nation’s left is recovering from the 2007 wipeout and could retake the country next year. Washington could change the dynamic by working to help dissidents in northern Korea, but it chooses not to do so (and even if it did, it wouldn’t change much in the short term).
In short, don’t expect the regime to be much different after Kim Jong-il’s passing.
Cross-posted to Bearing Drift