Should the world be preparing for the collapse of North Korea? According to a new report by RAND Corporation, an international research group and think tank, the oppressive regime and failing state could quickly collapse in the near future.
The report says that a combination of the country’s unsuccessful centralized economy, decrepit industrial sector and barren agricultural resources, in addition to a draining, expensive nuclear program, are all potential contributors to the nation’s demise. However, the report says that the biggest threat to the regime would be a sudden leadership change prompted by an assassination. “Of all the North Korean control failures, the most serious are the reported assassination attempts on the North Korean leaders,” the study by the U.S. think tank said.
“Such a sudden change could occur if the current North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, is assassinated, leaving no clear successor and the potential division of the senior North Korean leadership into factions that would likely wage civil war against each other,” the RAND report said. “Such a government would collapse into a humanitarian disaster, one that would likely force ROK [South Korean], U.S. and Chinese intervention to resolve the resulting threats both within the region and beyond.”
According to one of South Korea’s biggest newspapers, JoongAng Ilbo, a sudden leadership change may be more imminent than previously imagined. Earlier this year, in March, the newspaper reported that in 2012 new leader Kim Jong Un managed to thwart an attempted assassination on him in the capital city of Pyongyang. An unnamed intelligence source reportedly told the Korean newspaper that there was a rift between the young leader Kim and members of the military’s Reconnaissance General Bureau, who were unhappy after high-ranking General Kim Yong-chol was demoted. The source said the internal power struggle included gunfire, which was linked to a separate targeted assassination toward the current leader. Several reports also claimed there have been assassination attempts on Kim Jong Il’s oldest son, and therefore older brother of Kim Jong Un, Kim Jong Nam.
While such reports by unnamed sources are not verified, the pattern of alleged attempts suggest the threat of assassination is a reality for the nation’s leaders.
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The report hypothesizes that North Korea’s singular leadership control is essential for stability in the state. Without a central figure in control, two or more factions would likely develop, and power would be removed from the central North Korean government. Such groups could include: possible successors, senior political elites, North Korean active military, other North Korean elites, military conscripts and the common people. As a result, priorities would be divided, and the already limited resources would be further limited to certain areas, or cease completely, snowballing into not only a struggle for power, but also for resources.