News that North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is dead has not alarmed the Pentagon. But one of its worst-case scenarios for global security is a failed succession and the collapse of the regime.
While the Pentagon is always planning for contingencies, it was particularly prescient in its choice of war games the week before North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il's death.
As one of its three possible doomsday scenarios, the US Army selected “The collapse of North Korea” at its Unified Quest exercises. In the scenario, North Korea's collapse comes about because of regime change in the isolated nation.
Kim Jong-il's death, announced Monday, raises questions about whether his son and appointed heir, Kim Jong-un, will be able to consolidate power.
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Pulled from a paper published by Bruce Bennett and Jennifer Lind at Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, the scenario begins with the Kim regime "embarking on the most difficult challenge that such regimes face: succession."
“The transition from apparently stability to collapse can be swift,” the scenario says, and “could unleash a series of catastrophes on the peninsula with potentially far-reaching regional and global effects.”
Among the potential effects would be a massive outflow of the nation’s 24 million people, many of whom are severely malnourished, across the border. Equally, if not more troubling, would be the security of North Korea's arsenal. “North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction could find their way out of the country and onto a global market,” the authors say.