from Asia Unbound

Who Are the Generals Surrounding Kim Jong-un?

January 13, 2012

New leader of North Korea Kim Jong-un speaks while surrounded by soldiers in this undated still image taken from video at an unknown location in North Korea released by North Korean state TV KRT on January 8, 2012.
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North Korea has done its best in the weeks since Kim Jong Il’s death to project an atmosphere of calmness, continuity, and stability in the transition from Kim Jong-il to Kim Jong-un. Despite significant differences between 1994 and 2011, including the weakening of ideology, the lack of a long apprenticeship for Kim Jong-un, and an increasingly penetrated North Korean society, the North Korean leadership has been following the script provided by the succession of 1994 through its handling of the funeral arrangements and initial efforts to elevate Kim Jong-un as a leader.

However, we do not know what will happen as we reach the end of the script and Kim Jong-un starts to make decisions on his own: Will he take the advice of his regents at the risk of becoming a puppet and the face of the regime? Will other powerholders maneuver to marginalize the younger Kim Jong-un or strip him of power? Will Kim Jong-un be faced by unsolvable food shortages, continued loss of political control, and a failure of the North Korean patronage system as elites find new ways to make money to feather their own nests? Will there be a possible coup d’etat from rebellious military units such as that which was tried and failed in North Hamgyong in the mid-1990s?

To more clearly understand what we have learned through the funeral ceremony and initial efforts to promote Kim Jong-un as North Korea’s supreme commander, I asked CNA’s Ken Gause, a leading American analyst of North Korea’s political structure and leadership, to write on the initial developments in the post-Kim Jong-il era. You can find his must read here.