North Korea’s Succession Scenario and Its Implications
October 25, 2010
The following is the prepared text of a presentation at the 2010 International Conference on Human Rights sponsored by NKnet, the Sejong Institute and NED. The conference was held in Washington, D.C., on October 21, 2010.
North Korea’s supreme leader, Kim Jong Il, is handing over power to his third son, Kim Jong Un. North Korea watchers in and out of South Korea are paying attention to whether the succession can work. Experts have differing perspectives over whether it will be successful. Some experts argue that the succession will fail because of lack of preparation of the succeeding regime, the successor’s young age and lack of experience, shortage of charisma, weak support network, and opposition of the ruling elites, emergence of factions and conflict in the succession process. The argument is based on an assumption that the successor’s leadership is insufficient and ruling elites will oppose the succession regime. Other experts argue that the succession can be successful because of stability of the Suryeong-centered party-state system, strong regime durability and cooperation from the elites. Their argument is based on an assumption that North Korea’s ruling system is stable and elites will be cooperative.
Most North Korea watchers proceed with their arguments, thinking that leadership skills of the successor and elites’ attitudes will be crucial for a successive transfer of power. If the leadership is strong and the ruling elites cooperate, the possibility of success will be increased, and if not, the possibility will be lower. This analysis has a significant flaw. These researchers succumb to the fallacy of arbitrarily judging the leadership of the successor and possibility of the elites’ cooperation based on each researcher’s subjective experience and views. For example, “the successor lacks charisma, his support network is weak and elites will resist or cooperate.” However, facts that can support such an argument objectively are not present.
In the North Korean system, information about succession is shared by Kim Jong Il and the highest ranking elites. So, it is impossible to gain exact data on the variables that can influence the succession. Outside observers cannot even gauge how long the sponsor of Kim Jong Un, Kim Jong Il, will survive, how much leadership ability the successor has and how well the ruling elites cooperate with each other.
Outside watchers must admit the limits to their ability to analyze the level of the successor’s leadership and cooperation from elites, which will influence the succession, due to the isolation of the North Korean regime, and conduct research. North Korea’s succession may unfold in several different ways, depending on the uncertain factors. To expect an uncertain future by diverse uncertainty factors, it is effective to use the scenario method. The scenario method forms scenario theory by extracting variables with high influence and uncertainty on main policymaking issues and develops a scenario with the highest probability. If each extracted scenario is explained in detail, an uncertain future can be effectively examined, and preparing for the opportunities and dangers for each scenario is possible.
This paper is on the scenarios of success or failure of the succession, with leadership factor. The focus is whether North Korea’s succession regime will maintain power for the next ten years. A successful power transfer will have a significant effect on East Asia and the Korean Peninsula’s security. Therefore, scenario research on the succession can be used as a basis for devising North Korean policy in Seoul and Washington.
The paper is divided into four chapters. Chapter 1 clarifies the necessity and purpose of the scenario analysis. Chapter 2 explains the research method and development of succession scenarios. Chapter 3 describes the scenarios’ summary, conditions and unfolding processes. Chapter 4 examines implications.
2. Research Method
1) Totalitarian Theory and Leadership Theory
To find the key uncertain factors that influence North Korea’s succession, one must start with an understanding of the nature of North Korea’s regime. In North Korea, power is highly centralized in the supreme leader, and it is a sole dictatorship, with ruling elites surrounding the leader. The supreme leader is absolute. A totalitarian regime is one in which the leader rules personally by using ideology, party and state apparatuses. The leader of a totalitarian regime guts party and state institutions, turns them over to loyal supporters, and builds supreme, personal power over the party and state. Therefore, in totalitarian countries, the will of the leader is the supreme law. And all state institutions work to deliver the leader’s will to all classes.
Likewise, to understand the North Korean regime, in which the personal influence of the dictator is absolute, analyzing the leadership is useful. It is also important to analyze the role of the ruling elites. In leadership theory, ruling elites are considered to have the most influence at the time of the political system’s creation. This paper plans to research, considering leadership factors like the leadership of Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Un, and cooperation of ruling elites will be a critical factor of success in the power transfer. In a totalitarian regime, the people’s political power is weak, so it will have little influence over succession. Whether the current regime continues policy failure is also important. In the mid-1990s, two to three million North Korean people starved to death, and chronic economic and food crisis has continued for more than two decades. Nonetheless, Kim Jong Il is still in power.
Other than leadership factors, outside variables have less influence and are less predictable. After the Cold War, the Republic of Korea and the United States have pursued more pacifist or more hawkish policies, depending on the administration, but ultimately they turned out to have not much influence on the regime’s survival. China’s policy toward North Korea cannot be decisive in the regime’s survival and is quite predictable. Among the outside factors, military intervention against North Korea could have decisive impact on the survival of the successor’s regime. However, military force is unlikely to be used due to opposition from the Chinese and South Korean people. This was shown when the South Korean and Chinese governments opposed Washington’s military intervention during the first North Korean nuclear crisis. Afterwards, the chance of using military means against North Korea has been reduced. Even though North Korea tested nuclear weapons twice and attacked a ROK warship, the United States did not retaliate militarily.
2) ‘SRI Scenario Method’
This research uses the SRI scenario method developed by the Stanford Research Institute. From generic scenario generation steps, the SRI scenario method is divided into eight steps. This paper reorganizes the SRI scenario method into six steps in order to develop a succession scenario for North Korea.
Step 1: Analyzing decisions and strategic concerns
Step 1 decides the scenario’s topic. In step 1, by focusing on the main policy decisions of the organization, the scope of the analysis is set, and strategic decision areas that need to be focused on in the scenario are suggested. The research is an issue of North Korea’s succession, which is of strategic concern to the ROK and US governments. The focus of the research is to examine whether North Korea’s successor regime will survive for more than ten years. If the successor regime continues for ten years, it will be defined as successful, and if not, it will be considered a failure.
North Korea is attempting a third-generation succession. The succession provides many opportunities and threats to neighboring countries. If the succession is stable, the international society would have to face another Kim Jong Il. However, if the successor regime is weak and falls into turmoil, neighboring countries must be ready for various contingencies. Therefore, the ROK and US governments are interested in devising responses to the successor regime.
Step 2: Confirming key decision factors
Step 2 searches for the factors that will most directly influence the main policy decisions. The attention of Seoul and Washington on North Korea’s succession centers on whether it will survive, the successor regime’s policies on nuclear issues, reform, liberalization and human rights, its power structure and neighboring countries’ reactions to the successor regime. The research will be conducted based on the assumption that the most crucial factor in the ROK and US governments’ policy decision=making is the success or failure of the succession.
Step 3: Checking and analyzing main environmental forces
Step 3 examines all environmental forces that could influence the main policy decision factors in the future. Environmental factors are divided into micro- and macro-factors. Each factor is analyzed based on the extent of its predictability and severity. In this step, predictable factors are separated from uncertain factors that form the base of scenarios. Environmental factors’ status is decided based on their impact and uncertainty. Among them, two crucial uncertain factors with the highest level of influence and uncertainty are extracted.
This paper extracts environmental factors that can influence the success of power transfer by studying other documents that deal with the succession. Document research has found environmental factors, including Kim Jong Il’s health, Kim Jong Un’s leadership, whether the elites will cooperate, whether the North Korean people will give their support, the existence of anti-government factions, whether the regime can end the chronic economic failure, whether reform will take place, how much information comes into North Korea, North Korean policies of the US, ROK and China and the amount of international society’s human rights pressure and cooperation.
Table 1: Environmental Factors
– Kim Jong Il’s health
– Kim Jong Un’s leadership
– Cooperation of ruling elites
– Support of North Korean people
– Existence of anti-regime groups
– Whether economy gets better
– Whether reforms takes place
– Presence of outside information
– US’s North Korean policy
– ROK’s North Korean policy
– China’s North Korean policy
– International society’s human rights pressure
– Cooperation within international society
If the North Korean system is analyzed using totalitarian theory and leadership theory, the most critical uncertain factor on the success of power transfer is the leadership factor. In this research, leadership factors are Kim Jong Il’s health, Kim Jong Un’s leadership and cooperation of the elites.
Of the leadership factors, in order to extract two key uncertain factors, a survey of experts was conducted. Experts point to Kim Jong Il’s health and Kim Jong Un’s leadership as the key uncertain factors. Regarding Kim Jong Il’s health issue, most experts expected that if Kim Jong Il survives for more than five years and supports the Kim Jong Un succession, its chance to succeed will be higher. Therefore, Kim Jong Il’s health is set as five-year survival.
Whether Kim Jong Il survives for more than five years and will assist power transfer to his successor will have a most critical influence on the success or failure of the transition. Kim Jong Il will gradually hand over the power of the party, surveillance organs (National Security Agency, People’s Security Agency, military security command) and the armed forces, to help Kim Jong Un stabilize his power base. Also, he will help his son to gain the support of the ruling elites and to form a ruling alliance with the elites. As long as Kim Jong Il survives, it will be difficult for the ruling elites to challenge or resist Kim Jong Un. However, whether Kim Jong Il will survive for more than five years is not known.
The leadership of Kim Jong Un, the successor, is also very important. After Kim Jong Il is dead, Kim Jong Un’s leadership will be most critical. Even if Kim Jong Il dies now, the power of North Korea will be transferred to Kim Jong Un. After Kim Jong Il dies, Kim Jong Un’s leadership will have the critical impact. If Kim Jong Un’s leadership is strong, the chance to get support from ruling elites is higher, as well as that of a successful power transfer. However, if his leadership is weak, he will face opposition and challenge from the elites, and his chances of failure will be higher. But, there is not much information about Kim Jong Un, and his leadership ability is uncertain.
Given the nature of the North Korean regime’s power structure, cooperation from the ruling elites in the succession process will vary depending on Kim Jong Il’s health and Kim Jong Un’s leadership, and if Kim Jong Il dies in five years, or Kim Jong Un’s leadership is weak, it will have significant impact on the success or failure of the succession. When Kim Jong Il is alive, ruling elites will cooperate with the succession, which was decided by Kim Jong Il. However, after Kim Jong Il dies, the level of leadership ability Kim Jong Un has will decide the level of cooperation from the ruling elites. Especially in the scenarios of high possibility of success and of failure, the cooperation level of the ruling elites will differ depending on Kim Jong Il’s health and Kim Jong Un’s leadership, so these will be the decisive factors on a successful power transfer.
In this paper, the ruling elites are defined as politburo standing committee members, candidate members, secretaries of the party central committee, directors and members of the party’s Central Military Commission.
Step 4: Defining scenario logic.
Step 4 is the most important step in scenario making. During this step, aspects of alternative future developments, predictable or characterized by uncertainty shall be found. This paper sets key uncertain factors that will influence the success of the power transfer as Kim Jong Il’s health (survival for more than five years or not) and Kim Jong Un’s leadership (strong, weak). Succession has four scenarios as seen in Picture 2. The succession scenarios are successful power transfer, likely to succeed, failure and likely to fail. Details of the scenarios will be dealt with in chapter 3.
Step 5: Elaborating scenarios
Step 5 elaborates on the scenarios by combining scenario theory and environmental analysis. In the succession scenario developed by this paper, if Kim Jong Il survives for more than five years and Kim Jong Un has strong leadership, the chance of success is higher. On the other hand, if Kim Jong Il dies within five years, and Kim Jong Un’s leadership is weak, the likelihood of failure becomes higher. The scenarios will be analyzed further in chapter 3.
Step 6: Analyzing the main decision factors and implications for policy decisions and strategy.
Step 6 finds implications of the scenarios that need to be considered in the policy decision process and finds what implications each scenario has on main policy decision factors. To reveal implications of the scenarios, it is important to answer the following questions: What threats and opportunities does each scenario pose? What are the important issues of the scenarios? In which cases are special contingency plans necessary? What factors and forces are to be monitored in the scenarios? Implications of the scenarios will be treated in chapter 4.
3. Contents by scenario
1) Scenario I: Successful Power Transfer
The scenario of a successful succession needs stable inheritance of Kim Jong Il’s power by Kim Jong Un and maintenance of the individual dictatorship. If Kim Jong Il survives for more than five years and Kim Jong Un’s leadership is strong, the likelihood of successful power transfer is high. Kim Jong Il will gradually hand over power to Kim Jong Un and help his son to establish a power base. Kim Jong Un will show his leadership to strengthen his power and succeed in building a ruling coalition by gaining support from the elites.
If the successful scenario is compared to the movie, ‘Lion King’, it is as follows. Under protection of the king, Mufasa, the prince Simba grows and is recognized as the future leader. Simba inherits the kingdom after Mufasa dies. His uncle, Scar, a strong challenger, realizes Simba’s strong leadership and bandwagons with Simba to guarantee protection of his power and wealth.
Kim Jong Il stays healthy for more than five years and gradually hands over the party, surveillance apparatuses and military power to Kim Jong Un. Kim Jong Il strengthens Kim Jong Un’s power base, and emphasizes increasing his son’s capability as leader. Kim Jong Il transfers power to Kim Jong Un faster, because of health reasons, and tries to lessen his own workload. The speed of the power transfer depends on Kim Jong Il’s willingness to transfer power, Kim Jong Il’s health and Kim Jong Un’s leadership.
Control over the party, secret police and military will be transferred to Kim Jong Un, so he will have much more power than the ruling elites. Kim Jong Un uses his power to build a ruling coalition with the elites. Kim Jong Un, playing the role of rent collector, will gain support from the ruling elites by giving sufficient compensation to them. At the same time, Kim Jong Un keeps them under surveillance, to suppress political resistance. If Kim Jong Un’s leadership is strong, ruling elites deem it beneficial to get on the bandwagon and let their power and wealth be guaranteed rather than to challenge him.
Step 1: Kim Jong Un power base is gradually built
According to the power transfer plan, Kim Jong Il attempts to build Kim Jong Un’s power base. The process to build Kim Jong Un’s power base will be in this order: formalization of the successor, preparation for the power transfer, an official announcement and Kim Jong Il-Kim Jong Un coalition government. Formalization was completed on September 28, 2010, at the third Party Representative Congress. On September 27, Kim Jong Il bestowed the rank of full general on Kim Jong Un and elected Kim Jong Un as vice chairperson of the party Central Military Commission, formalizing Kim Jong Un as his successor. On September 30, Kim Jong Un’s picture was revealed.
The next step, preparation of succession, is taking place. To strongly support the Kim Jong Un successor regime, an elder group and a policy adviser group are formed. Kim Jong Un’s supporter groups are those who were elected at the third Party Representatives’ Congress as standing, full, and candidate members of the politburo, secretaries and departmental directors of the Central Committee and members of the Central Military Commission. They will support the Kim Jong Un succession regime and assist him. His aunt Kim Kyong Hee (politburo full member, general of the Korean People’s Army (KPA)) and uncle Jang Sung Taek (director of the Central Committee, member of Central Military Commission and vice president of National Defense Commission) are to play key roles to protect Kim Jong Un’s power and lead the elites’ cooperation. Inside the party, Choi Tae Bok Kim Kuk Tae, Kim Ki Nam, Hong Suk Hyong (all are politburo members and party secretaries), Kim Kyong Ok (first deputy director of party organization and guidance bureau, general) and Choi Ryong Hae (candidate member of politburo, general).
The key personnel who will bring loyalty for Kim Jong Un from the KPA are Vice Marshal Lee Young Ho, Chief of Staff, Generals Kim Jung Kak (first deputy director of the general political directorate), Kim Young Choon (minister of people’s armed forces), Oh Keuk Ryul (vice president of the National Defense Commission), and Kim Young Chul (director of the general surveillance directorate).
In the secret police apparatus, Woo Dong Cheuk (first deputy director of the NSA), Ju Sang Sung (director of People’s Security Agency), Kim Won Hong (chief of the security command) will watch the supporter groups and ruling elites to assist the successor regime.
In order to promote his image as leader, the image of the successor of Kim Il Sung’s revolutionary family and that of the military first policy will be emphasized. Kim Jong Un’s bloodline will be emphasized to strengthen his legitimacy, and by letting him lead the implementation of Songun (military first) policy, manipulation of his image will be attempted. Especially to manipulate his image as leader of the military, achievements in the military arena will be focused on. The nuclear weapons program will continue, and limited military confrontation with South Korea may be tried.
Kim Jong Un continues to build his own power base while controlling the military and party. Kim Jong Un will use his position as the vice chairperson of the party’s Central Military Commission in order to make the military a strong base of power. In the meantime, the military sponsor group will conduct ideological education, which says KPA is the army of Kim Jong Un, and it must protect Kim Jong Un to the death. Kim Jong Un will gain the position of organizational secretary of the party and seize control of the party apparatus. It will take three to five years.
Kim Jong Il will teach Kim Jong Un the art of ruling, national strategy and policy to strengthen Kim Jong Un’s leadership. He will teach his son how to gain voluntary and involuntary support from the ruling elites, how to control and watch them, national strategy and policies such as military-first politics, Korean-style socialism, economic policy, nuclear, foreign policy, etc.
Kim Jong Il will hold the 7th Party Congress to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung, and the first anniversary of the Strong and Prosperous State, and officially announce Kim Jong Un as successor by appointing him as standing member of the politburo. After that, the Kim Jong Il-Kim Jong Un coalition government starts.
Step 2: Kim Jong Il-Kim Jong Un Coalition Government
After Kim Jong Un’s status as successor is announced, the Kim Jong Il-Kim Jong Un coalition government starts. Kim Jong Il transfers control over the military, party and spy agencies. Kim Jong Il bestows the role of organizational secretary to him (handing over the party), and then that of spy agencies like NSA. Finally, he will transfer the title of commander in chief and chairman of the National Defense Commission (NDC).
Between Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Un, a division of labor will take place. At the initial phase of the coalition, Kim Jong Un’s power and authority will not exceed that of Kim Jong Il. As power is being transferred to Kim Jong Un, Kim Jong Un will show strong willingness for power and build own faction in the military and party. As Kim Jong Un dominates the military and part, Kim Jong Un’s power will exceed that of Kim Jong Il. Kim Jong Un’s power will be larger and the extent of his authority will be expanded, while that of Kim Jong Il will be reduced. In the meantime, sponsoring group and ruling elites will be reorganized under Kim Jong Un.
Kim Jong Il will control the nuclear weapons program, nuclear diplomacy and foreign policy, defense policy with the NDC and play the role of managing defense and the economy with local visits. Kim Jong Il will become a symbolic leader, and Kim Jong Un will replace him as actual ruler. New elites, who are trusted by Kim Jong Un, will emerge among the sponsor group and ruling elites. Kim Jong Un will continue nuclear development and partial military confrontation, to make the military as his power base. Domestically, in order to eradicate the threats to his power, Kim Jong Un will maintain the watchdog system and control over the elites and people. Kim Jong Un inherits dictatorship, national strategy and main policies.
Step 3: Death of Kim Jong Il and stabilization of succession regime
Kim Jong Il dies after five years from now. However, Kim Jong Un has already inherited the power of Kim Jong Il, so no political turmoil follows. Kim Jong Un rules with the Suryeong dictatorship system. The ruling elites cannot think of challenging Kim Jong Un’s absolute power, and rather bandwagons. Kim Jong Un sticks to the military first policy, making the army as power base. There is no meaningful change in North Korean regime, except that the supreme leader is changed from Kim Jong Il to Kim Jong Un. Kim Jong Un does not pursue fundamental reform like liberalization and democratization. Even Kim Jong Un is not free from institutional limit of the individual dictatorship. As soon as Kim Jong Un pursues liberalization and democratization, his power base will be weakened, and he will face strong opposition from key elites of party and military. As rent collector, Kim Jong Un must represent the interest of the ruling elites, provide enough compensation and build ruling coalition with them. Kim Jong Un will not change national strategy and main policies of Kim Jong Il. Kim Jong Un would maintain planned and isolated economy as well as North Korean style socialism, to keep his power. So, under Kim Jong Un’s leadership, chronic economic difficulty and food crisis will continue. In order to secure governing fund, Kim Jong Un will depend on counterfeit and drug trafficking, and conduct limited economic cooperation with China and ROK. Also, Kim Jong Un will continue nuclear weapons program, and expand nuclear capability. As North Korea’s nuclear capability expands, security threat to the neighboring countries will grow.
2) Scenario II: Succession that is likely to fail
The succession that is likely to fail is a situation in which Kim Jong Il supporting Kim Jong Un’s succession regime to make hereditary succession possible in a patron-client system, but Kim Jong Un’s leadership is weak so the system faces threats by ambitious challengers after Kim Jong Il’s death. If Kim Jong Il is alive for more than five years, the weaker the Kim Jong Un’s leadership is, the higher it is likely that succession fails. Therefore, Kim Jong Il endeavors to create a supporter group that can supplement Kim Jong Un’s leadership. During Kim Jong Il’s tutelage, ruling elites will support Kim Jong Un, but some ambitious ones plan to confiscate the power after Kim Jong Il dies. After Kim Jong Il’s death, chance of coup d’état will increase, and the possibility of Kim Jong Un holding power will be lower. Simba will be safe when protected by Mufasa, but since Simba’s leadership is weak, as soon as Mufasa dies, he is destined to be got rid of by Scar.
Kim Jong Il maintains his health for five years, and transfers control over party, spay agencies, and military to Kim Jong Un. Kim Jong Il strengthens Kim Jong Un’s power base, and focuses on improving his quality as leader. However, Kim Jong Un’s leadership is weak. Kim Jong Un fails to dominate power and lead voluntary support from ruling elites. Kim Jong Il forms a patron group to protect and help Kim Jong Un, and works on buying their loyalty. In the succession’s success and failure, ruling elites’ cooperation play important role. Ruling elites swear loyalty to Kim Jong Un, until Kim Jong Il is alive. A few ambitious people prepare for coup d’état after Kim Jong Il’s death.
Step 1: Gradual building of Kim Jong Un’s power base
Same as the scenario I
Step 2: Increased role of Kim Jong Un patron group
Kim Jong Il deems Kim Jong Un lacks leadership but there is no alternative. Kim Jong Il increases the role of patron group, to supplement Kim Jong Un’s ruling ability and protect the succession regime, trying to get allegiance from them. Kim Jong Il forms a patron group, reinforces each others role.
His aunt Kim Kyong Hee (politburo full member, general of KPA) and uncle Jang Sung Taek (director of the central committee, member of central military commission and vice president of National Defense Commission) are to play key role to protect Kim Jong Un’s power and lead the elites’ cooperation.
Inside the party, Kim Ki Nam (politburo member and party secretary), Kim Kyong Ok (first deputy director of party organization and guidance bureau, general), and Choi Ryong Hae (candidate member of politburo, general) are playing key roles.
In the armed forces, Vice Marshal Lee Young Ho, Chief of Staff, Generals Kim Jung Kak (first deputy director of the general political directorate), Kim Young Choon (minister of people’s armed forces), Oh Keuk Ryul (vice president of the National Defense Commission), and Kim Young Chul (director of the general surveillance directorate) will play important roles.
In the secret police apparatus, Woo Dong Cheuk (first deputy director of the NSA), Ju Sang Sung (director of People’s Security Agency), Kim Won Hong (chief of the security command) will watch the supporter group and ruling elites to assist the succession regime.
As Kim Jong Un’s leadership is weak, the influence of patron group and ruling elites will expand. As their influence increases, powerful individuals like Kim Kyoung Hee, Jang Sung Taek, Lee Young Ho and Choi Ryong Hae rise. Some ambitious individuals plan coup after Kim Jong Il’s death.
Step 3: Death of Kim Jong Il and Failure of Succession
Within five years from now, Kim Jong Il dies. Kim Jong Un inherits the power. Kim Jong Un, while having absolute power compared to ruling elites, has weak power base and leadership. Since his leadership is weak, he depends on patron group to rule. As patron group and some powerful personnel gain influence, conflict among party, army and spy agencies occur over power. Kim Jong Un has weak leadership, so fails to coordinate the ruling elites, and rather swayed by tem. As key elites, forming patron group, abuse power, among the ruling elites, there are disgruntled factions rising. As ruling elites turn their back on Kim Jong Un, people start to give up support. As a result, coup d’état occurs, but Kim Jong Un and patron group fail to quell it down. Kim Jong Un loses power, and succession fails. In North Korea, power struggle happens, and the power transfer is followed by one of the scenarios: limited competition, long-term competition, and competition with uncertain outcome, that may cause a new crisis. The regime will be stabilized if the new leader’s leadership is strong, but it will suffer continued power struggle if not. The final winner of the power struggle will be the new ruler of North Korea. The ruler will inherit the Suryeong dictatorship, but the dictator criticizes Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, and conducts limited political and economic reforms to secure support from people. Political and economic freedom is expanded, compared to Kim Jong Il era.
3) Scenario III: Failure of succession
In the scenario of failure of succession, as Kim Jong Un fails to inherit the power, the succession regime is collapsed, and a new leadership will appear after power struggle. As Kim Jong Il dies in five years and Kim Jong Un’s leadership is weaker, the possibility of failure increases. Kim Jong Un succession regime will be in extremely unstable condition. Patron group and ruling elites will attempt coup. The succession regime will be overthrown by the coup, and Kim Jong Un will be eradicated. New leader will emerge. If the new leader is strong, political regime will be stable, but if not, another power struggle will follow. The scenario is this: after Mufasa dies, Simba will be overthrown by Scar, due to weak leadership. Scar will be the new king, but sine lacking legitimacy, he will be challenged by competitors as soon as he shows his weakness.
Kim Jong Il dies in five years. Kim Jong Un inherits every power, but due to weak leadership, he does not control the party, army and spy agencies. Also, he fails to gain support from ruling elites. Patron and ruling elites pay attention to expanding their power, rather than protecting Kim Jong Un’s. Some ambitious people lead coup among the elites. Succession regime is collapsed, and Kim Jong Un is removed. The final winner of power struggle will be the new ruler.
Step 1: Kim Jong Un’s gradual building of power base
Same as the scenario I
Step 2: Kim Jong Il’s death and power struggle
Kim Jong Il dies in five years. Kim Jong Un inherits Kim Jong Il’s power. Kim Jong Un, while having absolute power compared to ruling elites, has weak power base and leadership. Since his leadership is weak, he depends on patron group to rule. As patron group and some powerful personnel gain influence, conflict among party, army and spy agencies occur over power. Kim Jong Un has weak leadership, so fails to coordinate the ruling elites, and rather swayed by tem. As key elites, forming patron group, abuse power, among the ruling elites, there are disgruntled factions rising. As ruling elites turn their back on Kim Jong Un, people start to give up support. At the same time, power struggle among ruling elites occur.
Step 3: Failure of succession and emergence of new dictator
Coup d’état occurs to overthrow the successor. But Kim Jong Un and patron group fail to quell it down. Kim Jong Un loses power, and succession fails. In North Korea, power struggle happens, and the power transfer is followed by one of the scenarios: limited competition, long-term competition, and competition with uncertain outcome, that may cause a new crisis. The regime will be stabilized if the new leader’s leadership is strong, but it will suffer continued power struggle if not. The final winner of the power struggle will be the new ruler of North Korea. The ruler will inherit the Suryeong dictatorship, but the dictator criticizes Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, and conducts limited political and economic reforms to secure support from people. Political and economic freedom is expanded, compared to Kim Jong Il era.
4) Scenario IV: Succession likely to be Successful
In the succession scenario with high likelihood of success, Kim Jong Il dies in five years, but Kim Jong Un has strong leadership, strengthens his power through power struggle, gains support from ruling elites and firmly establishes his status has supreme leader. Kim Jong Il dies in five years, and Kim Jong Un inherits Kim Jong Il’s power. Kim Jong Un controls the party, military and spy agencies, and by utilizing his absolute power, he succeeds in gaining support from ruling elites. Some ambitious elites try to challenge him, but the plot is revealed or suppressed. Kim Jong Un purges and intensifies brutal rule, to strengthen his power. Kim Jong Un inherits the Suryeong dictatorship, and prepares stable ruling base. The succession is accomplished. The scenario is like this: After Mufasa dies, Simba, the son, inherits the throne. Simba has absolute power and capacity to protect himself, so he defeats Scar and builds stable power base.
Kim Jong Il dies in five years, and Kim Jong Un inherits all power of Kim Jong Il. Kim Jong Un has strong leadership, so controls the party, military and spy agencies, firmly, and utilizes patron group and ruling elites to strengthen his position. Kim Jong Un checks the elites and brings out their obedience. Among the elites, those who are ambitious may attempt coup, but it is suppressed by Kim Jong Un. The elites rather choose to guarantee their power and wealth by bandwagon with Kim Jong Un.
Step 1: Gradual building of Kim Jong Un’s power base
Same as scenario I
Step 2: Kim Jong Il’s death and power struggle
Kim Jong Il dies in five years from now. While Kim Jong Un does not have absolute control over the power, he inherits Suryeong’s absolute power and control over the party, military and spy agencies in the single-dictatorship. Kim Jong Un has absolute power compared to patron group and ruling elites. He strengthens his power by utilizing patron group and ruling elites. While Kim Jong Un is strengthening his power, some ambitious people might attempt coup, but Kim Jong Un uses his absolute power to suppress before taking place or quell down after it occurs. While overcoming political challenge, he also strengthens his power.
Step 3: Successful power transfer and Kim Jong Un dictatorship building
Kim Jong Un is successful in inheriting power. Kim Jong Un maintains the Suryeong dictatorship. Kim Jong Un sticks with military first policy with the armed forces as basis. Kim Jong Un brutally subdues enemies, to intensify his power, and purges in huge scale, exercising a politics of fear. However, for friendly group, he provides incentives to make his power base firm. In the power struggle process, Kim Jong Un realizes the importance of politics of fear, and spying on elites.
Kim Jong Un appoints those who contributed him to win the struggle to important positions. They will be the ruling elite group in Kim Jong Un era, and patron group is reorganized. After his power is stabilized, Kim Jong Un exercise relatively soft policy to gain support from ruling elites and people. He increases incentives to ruling elites, and partially expands market to gain support from people. However, Kim Jong Un maintains North Korean-style socialism like planned, isolated economy, to keep his power, and continues nuclear weapons program.
This paper develops third-generation succession scenario with Kim Jong Il’s health and Kim Jong Un’s leadership ability as the main variables, and probes each summary, condition and development. If Kim Jong Il dies in five years and Kim Jong Un’s leadership is weak, the chance for the succession to fail is higher, and if Kim Jong Il lives for more than five years, and Kim Jong Un has strong leadership, the chance to succeed is higher. The order of possibility of successful power transfer is from success in transfer, likely to succeed, likely to fail and succession failed scenarios. The scenarios in which the role of the elites is important in deciding success or failure are, from important to less important, likely to fail, failure, likely to succeed and successful scenarios.
The scenarios developed by this paper have many implications. The successful power transfer scenario brings same threat as the current Kim Jong Il regime, as Kim Jong Un will inherit national strategy and main policies of Kim Jong Il, based on the dictatorship of an individual. The Kim Jong Un regime will rule the country with the armed forces as its basis, promoting Songun politics. Also, in the regime the role of the military will expand. North Korea will continue a strategy to concentrate national resources in strengthening its military, increase its nuclear power and try to be recognized as a nuclear state. Therefore, its foreign policy is likely to be hawkish. North Korea might attempt partial military confrontation with South Korea (e.g., making the West Sea an area of conflict) to build the achievements of Kim Jong Un as military leader and gain the armed forces’ support. The ROK and US should prepare for North Korean regime’s hawkish stance and possibility of partial confrontation, while devising plans to improve human rights among the North Korean people.
The successor regime is not likely to have a change in domestic policy. North Korea will adhere to the so-called North Korean style socialism, maintaining its planned and isolated economy, which will continue economic failure and the food crisis. Also, market restrictions will continue. In such a situation, the North Korean regime is likely to conduct illegal activities like exporting weapons, drugs, and counterfeit bills to earn foreign currency. In a Kim Jong Un regime, the North Korean people’s human rights violation will continue.
The United States and Republic of Korea must present policy alternative to prevent illegal activities of North Korea and denuclearize it. Ultimately, to introduce reform and opening, and political liberalization, they must think hard about what policy to follow. After all, the governments of Washington and Seoul must execute a strategy to weaken and bring an end to the regime. US-ROK need to separate official and unofficial North Korean policies. Official policy shall be based on a principle to punish illegal activities and compensate proper change. Also, to reduce the spying expense of North Korea, strong restriction on illegal activities, financial sanctions and pressure on human rights shall follow.
Unofficial activities shall be focused on expanding anti-regime, anti-Kim Jong Un movement and separation strategy. To introduce information against the North Korean regime and government, radio programs should be increased, and CDs and leaflets criticizing the regime and government must be sent by NGOs. The separation strategy aims at leading the North Korean people to criticize and oppose the regime, separate Kim Jong Un from the ruling elites, and cause friction among the ruling elites. To do so, it is important to properly secure human resources for conducting anti-regime activities in North Korea.
The scenario that has a high likelihood of success assumes Kim Jong Un winning the power struggle. The implication of this scenario is similar to the scenario of a prolonged Kim Jong Il regime. One particular feature is that it is possible that Kim Jong Un might trigger a power struggle while attempting to stabilize the succession. If the struggle develops into a civil war, the same threat of the failed succession is posed. Also, Kim Jong Un may purge and exercise the politics of fear after winning the power struggle. In this case, US and RK must intensify pressure on human rights in cooperation with international society.
The failure scenario has threat factors of a short-term power struggle. The players in the power struggle will be military personnel, who can mobilize military forces, or powerful persons in the patron group. In this case, the possibility of civil war among military figures is high. Washington and Seoul must have plans prepared for the outbreak of civil war. It is possible that mass execution of civilians occurs and refugees cross borders in the civil war. Also, some faction might gain nuclear weapons during the turmoil. Both countries should have plans for international society’s intervention, peacekeeping operations, how to control nuclear weapons, preparation against Chinese military intervention, plans to prevent massacre, emergency aid and aid to refugees.
Also, during the power struggle, some factions might attempt to get support from either the US, ROK or China. The US and ROK, while supporting the faction that is likely to succeed, may need to have a plan to assure denuclearization and reform in exchange for help.
If new leadership emerges after the power struggle ends, a new leader may attempt political and economic reform, while criticizing Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il to gain popularity and may conduct pacifist foreign policy to gain legitimacy in the international society. In this case, it is possible to lure the new government with economic aid and lead reform and denuclearization. Therefore, Washington and Seoul need to contact the new government fast. The implication of the scenario of ‘likely to fail’ is similar to that of failure, since the threat factor of a rising patron group and power struggle after Kim Jong Il is present. However, Washington and Seoul might have to contact key personnel or group while patron group gains power or power struggle begins.
ROK and US governments must have plans to weaken the North Korean regime by causing friction among the elites or depleting spying expenses, in case of the successful or likely to succeed scenarios. Also, if a power struggle develops into civil war, in the failure and likely to fail scenarios, there must be contingency plans and plans for cooperation with the new government. In North Korea, the emergence of new government may pose an opportunity to force it to denuclearize and reform.