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Maxwell on North Korea

Fatboy Kim II

(Photo hat tip to Robert Young Pelton)

Colonel Dave Maxwell, now retired from active duty and working at Georgetown University as Associate Director of the Center for Peace and Security Studies and the Security Studies Program in the School of Foreign Service, is an expert on the esoteric subject of North Korea ( which he habitually writes as “north Korea”) and the idiosyncratic dynastic Communist system he terms “the Kim Family regime”. In the past few years, I can say my knowledge of the DPRK has improved markedly largely from reading Dave’s posts on The Warlord Loop.

SWJ Blog has just published an analysis by Colonel Maxwell on what the demise of Kim Jong-il portends:

The Death of a Dictator: Danger, Opportunity or Best Timing Possible?

….There are two scenarios that are likely to play out within North Korea.  The first scenario depends on the strength and power of Jang Song-taek who, along with his wife and the late Kim Jong-il’s sister, is the de facto “regent” for the young Kim Jong-un.  Has he been able to help Kim Jong-un establish sufficient legitimacy within the Regime and will they be able to consolidate power?  It is very likely that if Kim has sufficient strength and control of the
security apparatus there are very likely arrests and purges taking place even as we try to figure out what is happening. 

The second scenario is that he has not been able to consolidate sufficient power and will be
faced with internal threats from other senior members of the regime who are unwilling to allow a 27 year old four star general rule the party and the military.  If there is a power struggle many scenarios can play out ranging from internal chaos, civil war, and “implosion” to an external “explosion” – e.g., spillover of the effects of chaos and civil war into China and the ROK or the worst case: the desperate execution of the regime’s campaign plan to reunify the peninsula as the only means left to ensure survival of the Kim Family Regime.  Finally, regime collapse will occur when there is the loss of the ability of the regime to centrally govern and the loss of control and support of the military and security apparatus.    We have seen cracks in the system like hairline cracks in a dam.  The recently reported alleged defection of eight armed guards is but one indication of such cracks with water slowly dripping from through the regime’s dam – the question is are those cracks repairable or will they cause the dam to crumble and collapse; unleashing such a torrent on the peninsula that will make 1950-53 look like a minor skirmish in terms of scale of potential conflict and devastation.

Either scenario will ensure the continued suffering of 23 million north Korean people and the second scenario will expand the tragedy to the Republic of Korea and its 46 million citizens and significantly affect the other countries in Northeast Asia as well as have global effects…..

Read the rest here.


2 Responses to “Maxwell on North Korea”

  1. Lexington Green Says:

    I can’t figure out what a “good” outcome is for the USA.  I see no non-chaotic exits for the KFR, or the DPRK entirely, from the pages of history.  Open warfare?  A gigantic humanitarian and refugee crisis?  An expensive and violent occupation by its neighbors and the USA?  There won’t be a Velvet Revolution in North Korea, from the little I know.  But the current regime is an ongoing atrocity, so as a matter of morality its termination should be a goal.  I say this even though I struggle to be a hard-nosed Realist most of the time, if only because the world is s a big, cruel place and we cannot possibly fix all of its problems, even the small number of really awful ones.  The recent piece by Taleb, The Black Swan of Cairo, shows that apparent stability of dictatorial regimes only means that the ultimate BOOM at the end will be that much bigger, and inexcusably, a “surprise” when it happens.  North Korea is a partial exception, since everyone is expecting it to blow up some day, at least in terms of talking about it, not so much in terms of preparing for it — again based on the little I know. Col. Maxwell’s proposal that the USA, ROK and PRC begin actively “prepping” for a regime change, or collapse, makes sense.  But will anybody bother to do it?  We have too many domestic policy czars.  But maybe we need a Korean Policy Czar, to think and act aggressively to be ready for whatever happens when the dam bursts, because it is going to.   

  2. zen Says:

    There are no good outcomes here as we are in no way prepared for a DPRK collapse and the subsequent Korean crime wave as large numbers of North Korean security-intel goons take flight to market their skills to transnational crime organizations across the Pacific Rim. Large numbers of North Koreans are sickly and the rest have been taught for generations to fear the outside world as genocidal invaders. Reunification is unlikely to resemble Germany in 1990

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