Research and Analysis on the DPRK Leadership
The UK-based International Institute of Strategic Studies released a 216-page dossier on the DPRK entitled North Korean Security Challenges: A net assessment (ISBN 978-0-86079-206-6) on 21 July in the UK and 25 July in the US. Written with the hand of several experts, it focuses on the country’s military capabilities, strategic weapons programs and the country’s proliferation of conventional and strategic arms. It also examines the ongoing political leadership succession and prospects and scenarios for unification with ROK. The dossier can be ordered through IISS <www.iiss.org>.
The dossier’s editor, IISS’s Mark Fitzpatrick wrote in The Telegraph:
Even though its long economic slide and inferiority in conventional weapons technology make an invasion of South Korea less credible than in the past, Pyongyang can – and does – inflict harm in many other ways.
Not only has it developed nearly the full array of weapons of mass destruction, it has been willing to sell them and its missiles and conventional arms to any would-be buyer. Pyongyang assisted nuclear weapons programmes in Libya and Syria, and may seek to do the same with Iran and Myanmar, although the evidence is unclear to date about any nuclear transfers to the latter two.
Meanwhile North Korea has engaged in diverse forms of state-sponsored crime including the kidnapping of foreign nationals, trafficking in narcotics and many other forms of contraband, and the counterfeiting of foreign currency. This criminality and the refugee flows, human trafficking and other complications arising from the regime’s systematic mistreatment of its own people pose additional security challenges for North Korea’s neighbours and the wider international community.
It is a moot point whether the Kim regime is more of a menace to its own subjects or the wider world. Its provocative behaviour increases the risk that eventually somebody, will be goaded to retaliate.
The dynastic succession now beginning to unfold in Pyongyang and the uncertainties this entails exacerbate the potential for conflict. Ailing leader Kim Jong-il’s third son, Kim Jong-un, will face severe disadvantages because of his lack of experience, his fragile power base, the political constraints on economic reform and the military’s role in politics. This could make North Korea an even more dangerous nation, more inclined to engage in further military provocations, to cling to its weapons of mass destruction and to offer them for sale. In pursuit of an ill-conceived boast of becoming a ‘strong and prosperous great nation’ by 2012, the centennial of the founding father’s birth, such military capabilities are all that the regime can summon.
In light of these multiple crises, Korean unification is no longer purely hypothetical. Of course, North Korea might be able to continue to muddle through. Its collapse has been confidently – and wrongly – forecast by many experts for over 20 years. However, the ferment in the Arab world this year is a reminder that no regime lasts forever.
One possibility is an internal challenge, although any further provocation against South Korea risks provoking strong military retaliation, which could trigger further events or spiral out of control.