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End-of-a-Lifetime Chance

Author: Scott A. Snyder, Senior Fellow for Korea Studies and Director of the Program on U.S.-Korea Policy
December 22, 2011
American Prospect


North Korea declared yesterday that the era of Kim Jong Un, third son of deceased Korean dictator Kim Jong Il, had officially begun. Since state television announced the former leader's death on Monday (Sunday U.S. time), a group of senior North Korean government officials has stepped in to manage the succession of power, but the country will remain vulnerable as the inexperienced leader tries to maintain the country's precarious position on the world stage.

Ironically, North Korea's vulnerability has for decades contributed to its sustainability, allowing it to play off the anxieties and interests of its neighbors. Even as the region's other powers—Russia, China, South Korea, Japan—wish the intractable North Korea problem would go away, their fear that a collapse would destabilize the region has led them to deal with North Korea with kid gloves. As the country enters a renewed period of uncertainty, tensions between U.S.-allied regional powers and China will likely deepen, in particular with respect to the question of Korean reunification—a long-sought dream on the peninsula.

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