The risk of a collapse has been growing in North Korea ever since Kim Jong-un took power back in December 2011.
As Dr. Bruce W. Bennet, a North Korea security expert of RAND, notes:
Given that Kim Jong-un in two years has turned over the North Korean military leadership as many times as his father did in 17 years, there is now more concern that Kim Jong-un could become the target of an assassination or coup by senior military personnel. Many of these personnel already likely fear for their future and the future of their families, given North Korean brutality.
We have summarized some of the alarming possibilities mentioned in the RAND report:
1. Competition between rival factions in North Korea could lead to warlordism.
The North Korean regime encourages competition among its secondary rank of generals. There is already fear that this competition is causing the military to divide into factions. If Kim Jong-un was suddenly deposed, the country could be split into hostile military zones. Some territories could also see all out anarchy on the rise, similar to Somalia’s current situation.
2. Food hoarding and an even worse humanitarian situation could become the norm.
The sudden collapse of the state could lead to the currency completely failing. If this was the case, many North Korean elites could take to hoarding food in an attempt to recreate their former wealth. This would likely trigger massive famines throughout the country.
3. A new, equally tyrannical, military regime could come to power.
It is impossible to say who could seize control of North Korea if Kim was suddenly out of power. It is likely, though, that whoever would manage to seize power would be just as brutal as Kim was.
4. A South Korean push for reunification could lead to increased organised crime.
If anarchy was ruling in the north, South Korea could see it as the perfect opportunity to strike in the name of reunification. If successful, South Korea would trade one major problem for another. The North Korean army stands at 1 million people who would need to be reintegrated into civil society. Failure to do so could lead to a rise in insurgency and organised crime. The country is, after all, already one of the world’s meth hubs.
5. WMDs and nuclear scientists could proliferate to terrorists.
Unlike Iraq, North Korea absolutely has WMDs. If they are not contained immediately after the government falls, they may be sold to the black market and be lost.
6. China could end up in military conflict with South Korea and the United States.
Some within the military in China already have plans to establish a 50 – 100 km buffer zone in North Korea should the regime fall. More warmongering elements within the Chinese military could push for the creation of an entire buffer state, which would lead to military conflict with South Korean and US unification attempts.
7. North Korea could be partitioned into hostile sections, like Germany after WWII.
If an agreement is not made between South Korea and China, both countries may end up seizing as much of North Korea as possible. Instead of going to war, they could instead partition the country and create another demilitarized zone, basically just prolonging the current Korean crisis.
In a report like this, it is hard to find a silver lining. We can only hope that, should this come to pass, Bennet’s observations can lead to an increased state of preparedness which could ease any future transitions in the region.
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