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North Korea's new season of hope

  • 21 December 2011

He presided over a starving nation, created a perilously unstable nuclear state (albeit largely symbolic), and terrified his neighbours. But the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il should cause neither terror nor concern as much as the experts would have it.

Jim Walsh of MIT's security studies programs is one such individual who is keen to emphasise the gloomy aspects. 'We're entering a period that is especially dangerous.'

Nor should Jong-il's death encourage those who have their hearts set on regime change imposed from without. The Workers Party's statement suggests the successor is the dictator's youngest son, 27-year-old Kim Jong-un, under whose leadership 'we have to turn sadness into strength and courage, and overcome today's difficulties'.

The death of the despot after a 17-year rule provides a series of possibilities, not all of which are negative. In fact, the negative aspect will only come into play if the paranoid complexes of the regime are played into.

Internally, the regime may be fractious and the dynastic succession forged by Kim Jong-il prone to unravelling. Though little is known about Kim Jong-un, the fact that he seems somewhat green might make him vulnerable to power factions in the regime. Seoul's gesture of increased alertness across the world's most heavily armed frontier is precisely the sort of gesture that should be discouraged.

Time and again, the greatest problem with the regime has been less with its immediate neighbours than with its fear of the United States, which has made little secret of its intentions. Given the invasion of Iraq, North Korea, the third component of the 'axis of evil' so proclaimed by the Bush administration, felt it necessary to bolster the state against possible intervention.

The reason North Korea is the nuclear state it is today can be attributed not just to the ruthless regime itself, but also to the failure of Washington to keep negotiations going and instead pencilling the regime in as one in urgent need of 'regime change'.

The stance of the Obama administration is not a marked improvement. Former defense secretary Robert M. Gates had adopted the position that he 'doesn't want to buy the same horse twice.'

The demonisation of North Korea's late leader as being variously sanguinary, chain-smoking and insane