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My New Year’s Predictions for North Korea


By Jack Pritchard

I am not sure why, but I was listening to a radio psychic for a few minutes last night.  She started off by telling the caller that she had a strong sense that he had a teenage daughter. When told no, he had two twenty-something sons and that one was gay, the psychic explained that, in fact, gay men appeared to her as young females.

This gave me encouragement to put my 2012 predictions down in writing, knowing that if I were wrong I could later twist the facts to fit my predictions in the same manner as the psychic.

Lee Myung-bak may well look back at December 17 as the best birthday he ever had.  Not that he personally is celebrating the death of Kim Jong Il, but that the death will turn out to mark the beginning of the end of North Korea and the beginning of the serious road to reunification.

North Korea has survived on a strict concept of one man authoritarian rule.  Kim Il Sung eliminated rivals and tolerated no dissent.  Kim painstakingly ensured his son learned the art of iron-fisted leadership over a twenty year period.  Even then, when Kim Il Sung died in July 1994, there were concerns that Kim Jong Il might not survive.  But at age 52 and twenty years of practical experience under his belt, he took three years to fully consolidate his power base and then autocratically ruled for the next 11 years until his stroke in August 2008.  Facing his own mortality, Kim Jong Il began a hasty and accelerated plan for succession. He settled on his then 25 year old son as his successor.  Finding the prospect of success low, Kim expanded the National Defense Commission (the ruling body) and named his brother-in-law first as a member and then later as a vice chairman.  Kim appointed his sister and son a four star general and began the process of revitalizing the Korean Workers Party as a counterweight to the military.  Analysts predicted that the process would succeed only if Kim Jong Il lived long enough to cement the paper thin credentials he had bestowed upon his son, Kim Jong Un.

Kim Jong Il did not live long enough to even enjoy his elevation to Number One Dictator in Parade Magazine’s December 18 edition.

The consequences for Kim Jong Un because of his father’s abrupt death will be dire.  He has virtually no practical experience, no individual power base and a system newly designed to weakly function after Kim Jong Il as check and balance between the military, the party and a regent (Jong SongTaek, Kim Jong Il’s brother-in-law).  The problem is that Kim Jong Il elevated the military through his Military First Policy to the point where it is THE power in North Korea and efforts to share power can only come through the diminution of the military – something it will not accept in the mid- to long-term.

There will be a natural and short lived period of public unity in the aftermath of Kim’s death.  However, the consolidation of power and the maneuvering that is going on behind the scenes will come to the surface – probably shortly after the April 15 celebrations of Kim Il Sung’s 100th birthday.  By then, the military will have successfully neutered Jong Song Taek and will be calling all the shots.  At some point the military will cease to find Kim Jong Un useful as the public face of continuity of the Kim dynasty and he too will vanish from public view.

Under these circumstances the military may be able to exert enough control to maintain a semblance of stability, but not for long.  At some point in the next 12-24 months, the underpinnings of control will come undone, followed by a rapid collapse of North Korea as we know it and movement toward reunification.

2012 will be a year worth remembering.

Jack Pritchard (aka Carnac the Magnificent 2nd). The views expressed here are his own.

Photo from expertinfintry’s photostream, flickr Creative Commons.

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6 Responses to “My New Year’s Predictions for North Korea”

  1. ColMike1985 says:

    Jack, I have enjoyed KEI’s coverage of the aftermath of the death of Kim Jong Il. You’ve made a bold prediction that I hope becomes reality. It seems to me, with the authoritarian “leader” gone, there might be enough people who have seen what the rest of the world has to offer ecomonically and socially that might want to introduce those things to NK. Do you think there is any semblance of humanity by anyone in a position of power there that will help make your prediction a fact?

  2. Jayanti Raghavan says:

    An interesting piece. Like any prediction it could go either way. Though unification is the best solution but it doesn’t seem that it’ll happen in a hurry. China has a lot at stake in North Korea for its investments and development of its northeastern region. It’ll ensure some sort of stability there.

  3. Cubby's says:

    This is an interesting piece, but not as interesting as the countless tapes that I have of the conversations you and I had over the 1997 Submarine incident on the Korean peninsula. Jack, your memory must be short, because the tapes memorialize the work that you and I were doing together to ease the crisis and to keep the North Korean negotiating at a very volatile time on the Korean peninsula. You mention to Reuters News Service that the Korean were using me for a free lunch, as I recall Jack, when you came down to the restaurant you didn’t pay for your rack of ribs either. I guess you and the North Koreans have something in common. You also mentioned to Reuters News Service that you didn’t get anything from me. It’s not so much that Jack, I believe, I think it’s just that you don’t get it. The U.S. in my opinion has had the wrong people for the last 50 years negotiating with the North Koreans, and it’s my belief that you were one of these people. Jack, what you don’t get is that it’s not so important what you got from me, but how much influence and how many friends I made during my 20 year friendship with many North Korean officials. That being said, I wish you and your family a very Merry Christmas.

  4. Ggrullon15 says:

    twist the facts is something you now admit doing.I think when you Mr. Pritchard talked to the media about Robert Egans book You also twisted the facts.Shame on you .Be careful you might get sued for deformation of character.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] where Kim Jong-un serves as a figure head. What does seem clear, despite uncertainty about the future ability of the regime and Kim Jong-un to maintain its hold on power, is that the passing of Kim Jong-il will presage a […]

  2. […] While these public events may allow North Korea to demonstrate support and unity around Kim Jong-un, there is still the likely possibility that maneuvering for power is occurring behind closed doors. It would take a real strong feeling of uncertainty and disbelief in the leadership capabilities of Kim Jong-un and the direction of the country for the public face of leadership in North Korea not to be Kim Jong-un through April 2012. Yet after April, the public events subside and even more jockeying of power could begin. […]


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The Peninsula blog is a project of the Korea Economic Institute. It is designed to provide a wide ranging forum for discussion of the foreign policy, economic, and social issues that impact the Korean peninsula. The views expressed on The Peninsula are those of the authors alone, and should not be taken to represent the views of either the editors or the Korea Economic Institute. For questions, comments, or to submit a post to The Peninsula, please contact us at ts@keia.org.