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Korea after Kim Jong-Il

Korea after Kim Jong-Il

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Vulnerable to external pressure and confronting internal demands for change, the future of the North Korean state remains very much a live issue. In June 2003 the ratings agency Standard and Poor’s issued a report highlighting the ineluctable prospect of a North Korean collapse and its perilous implications for South, identifying the prospectively economically devastating costs of unification— a la Germany— as a factor depressing South Korean sovereign bond ratings.

The S&P scenariois as provocative as the title of this monograph. Today’s North Korean regime embodies elements of both communism and Confucian dynasty under its deified-yet-mortal leader, Kim Jong-il. Its anomalous internal characteristics and external relations create an unusually broad set of possible transition paths and successor regimes, ranging from effective maintenance to the status quo to evolutionary change to revolutionary upheaval, probably implying the collapse of North Korea as a sovereign state and its absorption into rival South Korea. Now the Kim regime has raised the stakes both externally with its nuclear program, and internally, taking up economic reform and its accompanying dislocations, thereby moving from the realm of elite to the realm of mass politics. Korea expert Marcus Noland traces how under these unsettled conditions, something as prosaic as the demise of the sixty-something Kim Jong-il could set off abrupt transitions to non-Kim family leadership with or without juche, the near-theological ideology of national self-reliance, while collapse, or civil war are possible as well.

This study quantitatively analyzes the probability under alternative scenarios of regime change in North Korea, investigates the character of possible successor regimes, examines the likelihoods of "radical" and "gradual" economic integration between the North and South and the implications of these profoundly different trajectories for the South.