The news outlet Military Times has cited an array of experts as saying that the possible death or incapacity of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un may destabilise the region and prompt a military response from the US and South Korea.
Retired South Korean Lt. Gen. Chun In-bum, the former head of his country’s special operations forces, warned of “chaos, human suffering, and instability” if there is no designated heir in North Korea. “It’s bad news for everyone”, he told the Military Times.
Chun also did not exclude a potential civil war and a refugee crisis, but remained downbeat about the possibility of Washington and Seoul staging a military intervention in North Korea.
“What are we going to do? March in there?? Let the Chinese do it. The DPRK is a sovereign country. Anyone going in there, including the Chinese, would be crazy. The ROK/US has a bad plan with bad assumptions. It will get us into a nuclear war”, Chun said.
David Maxwell, a senior fellow at the Washington-based think tank Foundation for Defence of Democracies, noted that it remains unclear whether the North Korean leader has designated a successor.
“We can speculate that perhaps his sister Kim Yo-jong” could act in this capacity, which Maxwell said is based on “her recent promotion and the fact she began making official statements in her name beginning last month”.
Referring to the Kim dynasty, named after the highest peak on the Korean Peninsula, the analyst noted that it is unknown “whether a woman, despite being part of the Paektu bloodline could become the leader of the Kim family regime”.
Maxwell warned of a possible regime collapse in North Korea which he suggested might be followed by a “humanitarian disaster” starting to unfold in the communist nation.
“South Korea, China, and Japan (via boat) are going to have to deal with potential large-scale refugee flows. Units of the North Korean People’s Army are going to compete for resources and survival. This will lead to internal conflict among units and could escalate to widespread civil war”, the pundit asserted.
According to him, potential internal strife would not keep them from responding to a possible foreign incursion.
“Since North Korea is a guerrilla dynasty built on the myth of anti-Japanese partisan warfare we can expect large numbers of the military (1.2 million active duty and 6 million reserves) to resist any and all outside foreign intervention including from South Korea”, Maxwell claimed.
In this vein, he said that the US-South Korean alliance should be prepared “to secure and render safe the entire WMD [weapons of mass destruction] programme, nuclear, chemical, biological weapons and stockpiles, manufacturing facilities, and human infrastructure (scientists and technicians)”.
“This is a contingency operation that will make Afghanistan and Iraq pale in comparison”, the analyst claimed, adding that “it will be a combined effort because neither South Korea nor the US can execute this alone".
Pyongyang Reportedly Considering Contingency Plan on Power Transfer
The remarks come after the Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun quoted sources familiar with trilateral discussions between Washington, Seoul, and Tokyo as saying that North Korea has been drawing up a contingency plan overseeing the transfer of power to Kim Jong-un’s younger sister, Kim Yo-jong, in the event of an emergency.
This followed US President Donald Trump saying on Tuesday that he wishes Kim Jong-un well after reports about the North Korean leader’s dire condition.
Earlier, CNN cited an unnamed US official as saying the White House is monitoring "intelligence" that Kim is in "grave danger" following surgery. On 15 April, the North Korean leader reportedly missed the celebration of his grandfather and state founder Kim Il Sung’s birthday, in what led to widespread speculation about Kim Jong-un’s health.