News out of HKSTV in Hong Kong is now reporting that North Korean Kim Jong Un is dead. The US has yet to confirm this.
HKSTV Hong Kong Satellite Television says North Korea leader kim jong un is dead. No US confirm at this point.
— Adam Housley (@adamhousley) April 25, 2020
Adam Housley is also reporting that:
Strong Korean contact says: "If he is dead/life support they will keep radio silence as long as possible as his sister is not ready and they'll want to avoid a coup."
— Adam Housley (@adamhousley) April 25, 2020
If this is true, the likelihood of a coup will depend on a lot of factors. One factor that increases the probability of a coup is that the North Korean regime does not have a true line of succession. Kim was not expected to die. Therefore, an heir wasn’t being prepared to take over. Kim is only 36 years old. Consequently, other family members or military generals may look at this as an opportunity to take control of the country.
If this does occur, internal fighting will not only happen within the borders of North Korea, but external forces will come into play as they will seek to take control of the country.
External forces meddling in the affairs of the Korean Peninsula has happened before. In reality, it has never ceased. The Korean War was the first proxy war of the Cold War. The war was Pro-US factions versus Pro-communist factions (Soviets and Chinese). Even though North Korea is its own country, they are not autonomous; they are essentially a proxy of the Chinese government.
We can see a scenario where the US will try and make a power play of their own and install a leader that will be friendly to the US and thus flip North Korea from China to the US. This again will increase the probability of a coup and conflict.
China, of course, will not sit idly by while the US does this. So the only way to decrease the likelihood of a coup is if China can quickly handpick and install their own puppet. Many might be thinking that the US not getting involved at all is the best move, but in one sense that really isn’t an option.
North Korea is a nuclear power. The Kim family is not crazy as some people have stated. They’re evil but not crazy. Their posturing is a power play and very predictable. They don’t want war. They want to maintain power, so in a sense their predictability is a sort of stability.
Therefore, the US can’t just leave it to chance and hope for the best. A stable evil dictator is better than an unknown variable with nuclear weapons.
Now some may say it is best for the US to work closely with China and allow China to install another stable dictator. This is also difficult because a sort of Cold War has existed between the US and China over dominance in the region for years. China wants to supplant the US as the global superpower, and if they are unchecked and unchallenged, the probability of a US-China war in the future dramatically increases.
If you allow China to install their dictator unchecked, then the lesson China will learn is by installing a puppet dictator and giving them weapons of mass destruction, it will result in US capitulation.
This, of course, cannot and will not happen, so I suspect some type of power play will occur. Could it be a proxy war, who knows? Sometimes proxy war can serve to stabilize a situation. Just like the Korean War, the Vietnam War and Soviet-Afghan War were proxy wars; overall, they did help prevent a full-scale US-Soviet nuclear war.
Having two nuclear powers going to war is bad for all parties involved, and that is why it has never happened, and why proxy wars have.
Will the US get involved in a hot proxy war? Probably not. Even if the US doesn’t get fully involved with a hot proxy war it must get involved via an escalated cold proxy war. By granting Chinese dominance over North Korea, at least the US should make them sweat it out. Make sure they know you will challenge them, and the only way for the US to back down is for concessions from the Chinese in matters of trade and national security.
Maybe concession with Hong Kong, Taiwan, Tibet or in the South China Sea is a concession China will be willing to make instead of gambling with the chance of having a US base right on the Chinese-North Korean border.
The Chinese need to know that their desire for continued expansion, control, and dominance will not go unchecked, and it will be a costly endeavor.
International relations is a dirty business, and spirited debates in the UN don’t solve problems. It never has and never will. John Nash didn’t get a Nobel Prize for his fundamental contributions to game theory because it was optimistic and rosy. He was awarded it because that is just the way of the world.
So if Kim Jong Un is dead or not is unclear at this time. What will exactly happen is also unclear, but one thing that is clear, a lot is going on behind the scenes right now.
Therefore, having credible intelligence is critical in this situation. I say credible and not actionable intelligence because what actions the US and China take is unknown. The only thing we can hope for is wisdom with all parties at hand so that we can minimize the probability of a US-China war, and bring greater stability in the region and the world.
Konstantinos Roditis is a political scientist in International Relations with a focus on National-International Security Studies from the University of California, San Diego. He is also a government reform and taxpayer advocate and was a 2018 nominated candidate for California State Controller. You can follow him on Twitter & Facebook.
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