Photo: AP/David Guttenfelder
Turmoil is brewing in North Korea, but it has little to do with the country’s relationship with the West.It has everything to do with a political power-struggle quietly taking place at the highest levels of government, argue Ian Bremmer and David Gordon of the Eurasia Group in a report about the world’s greatest political risks in 2012.
The newly powerful Kim Jong-un is inadequately prepared for his new leadership role, and while he may remain the de-facto head of government, conflict about who is going to pull the strings could bring the country—and maybe even China-U.S. relations—to the brink of catastrophe.
Bremmer and Gordon write:
Kim Jong-un may remain in place, but he is very unlikely to actually run the country. Those around him and other stakeholders—almost certainly encouraged by China—will have decided that this is the best outcome for the moment. In coming months, we should not be at all surprised to see provocative external acts meant to prove that the government is firmly in place and not to be trifled with.
Alternatively, we could pick up signals of infighting at the highest levels of government. Those within the leadership who fear a fall from favour have clear incentives to derail the process of consolidation of power. That won’t happen openly or immediately. (As they used to say in the British special forces, in a hostile environment you shoot the first person who moves. There’s a serious first mover disadvantage in a totalitarian transition). But the initial calm may not last long, and it’s almost impossible to predict exactly what sort of political risk the elite might produce. As we’ve seen in recent months, another belligerent international act could be just the thing to provoke a state of crisis and rally North Korea’s powerbrokers to the regime.
In the worst-case scenario of rapid government collapse, US and South Korean forces would move north to secure North Korea’s nuclear sites, while China would likely send forces across the Yalu River to block any flood of refugees and restore basic security, creating the potential for unintended conflict given the absence of any joint US-China contingency planning.
NOW WATCH: Briefing videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.