Post Kim Jong Il Politics: a Roundup

Despite the fact that we run a blog, we are skeptical about instant analysis. My colleague Marc Noland has given an interview, and we reflected earlier on the prospects for political change in interviews with Dan Pinkston for both the Asia Policy Review and the The DailyNK. We emphasized that “collapse” was unlikely, that the regime was investing institutions that would support the “great successor,” and that the major players would have strong incentives to rally around the third son as a focal point, whatever policy and personal differences they may have.

Rather than repeating ourselves, however, we comment on what analysts in the U.S. are saying about political developments in North Korea in the post-Kim Jong Il era. (A more complete catalogue of general commentary has been collected in a dossier by the National Committee on North Korea.)

Let’s start with the KCNA, though. Some unnamed Chinese source reported by Reuters and comments by the South Korean National Intelligence Service have set off a flurry of speculation about collective leadership; The Washington Post provides an example. By “collective leadership” we typically mean that executive power rests with a collective body—say, the Presidium–rather than a single individual.

For the record, that ain’t what the North Koreans are saying. The most significant document posted on the English-language KCNA site —immediately following the terse announcement of Kim Jong Il’s death—was called “Notice to All Party Members, Servicepersons and People.” The document was from “the Central Committee and the Central Military Commission of the Workers’ Party of Korea, the National Defence Commission of the DPRK, the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly and the Cabinet of the DPRK.” For those with a Kreminological bent, the order itself is interesting, with the Central Committee first and the Central Military Commission—Kim Jong Un’s home-base–listed before the National Defense Commission, the position from which Kim Jong Il ruled; we come back to that in a minute.

But the main point is that after praising Kim Jong Il, the document identifies Kim Jong Un as the successor in unambiguous terms:

“Standing in the van [sic] of the Korean revolution at present is Kim Jong Un, great successor to the revolutionary cause of Juche and outstanding leader of our party, army and people.

Kim Jong Un’s leadership provides a sure guarantee for creditably carrying to completion the revolutionary cause of Juche through generations, the cause started by Kim Il Sung and led by Kim Jong Il to victory.”

Even if the leadership structure is not formally collective, there is a little doubt that Kim Jong Un will need to forge a ruling coalition; Ken Gause, one of our favorite analysts, is clear about this point in a useful blogpost for KEI. We know that there have been both promotions and purges in the ranks of the party and military designed to strengthen the hand of Kim III. But he will certainly have to rely on old hands. Which ones? In addition to the Gause piece, Nicholas Hamisevicz at the Korea Economic Institute has a post with short bios on 10 People You Need to Know.

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