The passing of “our dear leader” as he is known to many worldwide came as a shock to the citizens of North Korea though, not to many around the world. The announcement of his death which took place on December 17, 2011 while on a domestic train trip, did not reach the airwaves until December 19. Soon after the announcement, analysts are quick to wonder what will become of the nation and its emerging new leadership in the global arena.
Kim Jong II, as known was a second generation North Korean dictator who defiled all forms of global condemnation to build nuclear weapons. He came to power in 1994 after the death of his father Kim II Sung and ruled the DPRK for 17 years before his death. The years that saw him in power, was a period of complete isolation for his country; he resisted opening up to the outside world as a way of protecting his regime however, this was achieved at the expense of extreme poverty and human degradation inflicted upon the Korean people.
There seem to be no concrete information about Kim Jong II marital history; he is believed to have been officially married once and is known to have four children, three sons and a daughter. Now that he has transitioned his youngest son Kim Jong-Un, is next in line to take the reign of power and has been declared to take up leadership in the DPRK. Many now wonder if Kim Jong-Un, will be able to rule North Korea considering his age estimated at 28-29 and his inexperience as a leader.
Kim Jong II leaves behind an economy that is not only fragile but one that enjoys no global support; an economy less than 3% the size of South Korea’s and one that relies heavily on handouts in the form of charity from concerned organizations, nations and most especially China believed to have a huge interest and influence on the nation.
Since the 1990s, it is estimated 2 million people died in North Korea as a result of famine; many children died as a result of malnutrition and last year, the United Nations and the U.S. increased economic sanctions on the nation caused by Kim’s decision not to give up North Korea’s nuclear activities.
Kim was considered a reasonable man in negotiation when it comes to what he desired for his nation however, psychological evaluations determine that Kim Jong II possess antisocial features such as, his fearlessness in the face of sanctions and punishment he was willing to endure, to make negotiations over the nuclear pursuit difficult.
The issue now is whether his son Jong-Un has been groomed to carry on his father’s leadership just as he would have done it. While some think the death of Kim Jong II means a collapse of the Korean regime, others are less optimistic as no one knows whether or not Jong-Un will use a softer approach.
The reign left behind by his father is clear and whether the death of Kim Jong II will improve North Korea’s relationship with the U.S. and the rest of the world may be a difficult question to answer, considering the nation’s track records. In 2009 Kim defied threats of the United Nations sanctions when he went ahead to test a second nuclear device and a ballistic missile, technically believed to be capable of reaching Tokyo, South Korea, and the State of Hawaii in the U.S.
In 2010 international investigation came to the conclusion that Kim’s regime was responsible for the sinking of a South Korean naval vessel, killing 46 sailors. Months after the event, North Korea shelled a South Korean island which led to the death of two soldiers and two civilians. His pursuit of nuclear arsenal is seen by some as an attempt to counter South Korea’s strategic position in the region and its advantage in building conventional weapons made possible by support from the U.S.
The regime in Pyongyang considers itself vulnerable as long as South Korea has access to nuclear arsenal and continues to harbor American troops in its territories. Kim Jong II remained hesitant to open the country to the global market out of fear and worry that an open market, will allow his enemies to identify his defenses. Rather, the regime allowed Koreans in need of food and other necessities to travel within the country to find food and other commodities.
In 2003 Kim Jong II stepped up his nuclear pursuit when he withdrew North Korea from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty; the decision triggered a diplomatic war which led to a six-party talk involving the U.S., Japan, Russia, South Korea and China. Further negotiations took place after the 2006 nuclear detonation by North Korea; the regime later agreed to shut down its nuclear reactor in exchange for aid however, tension rose again in 2009 when the nation tested its ballistic missile. This led to a breakdown in talks and North Korea threatened to withdraw completely from the six-party talk and resume enriching Uranium.
Whether the young Kim is a better party to negotiate with remains open but he is likely to be different from his father due to his Western education and his rather soft personality. However, what is clear is that the issue of North Korea is far from over and may be difficult to resolve without China. The U.S. and its allies in the region must begin to engage the new regime likely to be in place; China and Russia command a lot of influence and respect in North Korea and without the cooperation of these two nations the nuclear race will not be over.
Those who think North Korea has no nuclear bomb by now should discard such belief. No doubt North Korea is a nuclear state; the issue now should be how to prevent it from acquiring more nuclear bombs. The death of its former leader should be an opportunity to engage the new regime meaningfully and work towards ending the nation’s nuclear aspirations. Kim Jong II was groomed to succeed his father for more than 30 years and he may have done the same with the young Kim, who has frequent his father’s side at State’s occasions since the “dear leader” started showing signs of illness.
So far the young Kim is referred to as the designated leader to succeed his father; the entire nation has been called to rally around him and support his leadership. The State officials and the military have also pledged to “uphold (Kim Jong-Un’s) leadership,” calling him a “great successor” to his father.
The ball is now in the global court, repeated attempt to negotiate disarmament with Kim Jong II failed numerous times, this may be a chance to resume talk and find a lasting solution. However, all talks must involve Beijing, China controls more than 80% of North Korea’s market and it is the only nation that can bring North Korea to its knees if it decides to withdraw aids to Pyongyang.
China and North Korea share a long border and over the years both nations have shared ideologies and have engaged in inter-state trade; the economic relations between both states have remained stronger over the years therefore, any instability or change of events in North Korea could spill over the border into China and that is something the government in Beijing does not want.
Any attempt by the U.S. and its allies to carry out an attack on North Korea will be rejected and vetoed by both China and Russia therefore; the only solution is through diplomacy and negotiation. The death of Kim Jong II and the uncertain path of the new regime could give the U.S. a chance to normalize relations with North Korea and may be the door to ending the impasse in the Korean Peninsula.
Dr. Adeyemi Oshunrinade [E. JD] is an expert in general law, foreign relations, and the United Nations; he is the author of ‘Murder of Diplomacy’ (2010) and ‘Wills Law and Contests’ (2011).
Categories: War and Politics