Sunday, June 07, 2009

Will successor Kim Jong Un assert control as supreme commander of the armed forces?

South Korean intelligence, arguably the most reliable in the tricky business of keeping tabs on North Korea, has assessed that its supreme leader Kim Jong Il has decided on a successor, Kim Jong Un.

Most telling of events is a report that the young man is being greeted in official quarters as someone akin to an officer of the army. He was recently made a relatively modest 'inspector' of the National Defense Commission. The defense commission is the apex of power in North Korea, the titular controller of a million-strong fighting force and nuclear weapons stocks.

One crucial assumption that could be made is that a ruinous power contest has been averted. Alternatively, a tussle has been made less likely with the question apparently settled when the unwell Kim, who seems keenly aware of his mortality, is still in control.

Whatever may be said about the totalitarian, shut-tight country, an orderly power transfer with a new leader in unquestioned control of the military is the least troubling prospect to hope for. China and South Korea would be relieved if a messy struggle did not ensue after Kim is gone. A large caveat, however, is whether the young Kim can quickly assert control as supreme commander of the armed forces.

If the nuclear test and missile shots of last month had been staged to ensure internal acceptance of the succession, it would imply that Pyongyang could begin to wind down the provocations. The United States seems to think so, suggesting it expects to see Pyongyang return to the diplomatic track. The State Department's reckoning that missile launchings did not require the US to re-designate the nation as a terrorism sponsor could be read as a wish to guide North Korea out of its self-destructive trajectory, while keeping hard options open.

[The Straits Times]

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