After unverified reports claimed that North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un is in grave condition following surgery, military experts said that if Kim died or was incapacitated, it could potentially destabilize the region.
Kim’s health has been the subject of much speculation after he missed an April 15 commemoration for his grandfather’s 108th birthday, considered a major holiday in the isolated, communist country. Reports from several news outlets said he underwent heart surgery.
Should Kim’s demise be confirmed, experts said his exit would create region-wide problems.
Without a designated heir to succeed him, there will be even more “chaos, human suffering,” and “instability,” retired South Korean Lt. Gen. Chun In-Bum, who was the head of the country’s special operations, told the Military Times this week. “It’s bad news for everyone.”
David Maxwell, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank, agreed and said a lack of clear succession would bring about a chaotic situation inside the country, leading to fighting between various factions.
“It is unknown whether Kim Jong-un has designated a successor,” said Maxwell. “We can speculate that perhaps his sister Kim Yo-jong has been designated as his successor based on her recent promotion and the fact she has begun making official statements in her name beginning last month.”
But Maxwell argued that the ensuing power vacuum could lead to a collapse of the regime. As a result, the United States and South Korea must be prepared.
A “humanitarian disaster … will unfold in North Korea,” Maxwell told the news outlet. “South Korea, China, and Japan (via boat) are going to have to deal with potential large scale refugee flows,” he said. “Units of the North Korean People’s Army are going to compete for resources and survival. This will lead to internal conflict among units and could escalate to widespread civil war.”
At the same time, North Korea’s large military would still be prepared to defend the nation.
“Since North Korea is a Guerrilla Dynasty built on the myth of anti-Japanese partisan warfare, we can expect large numbers of the military (1.2 million active duty and 6 million reserves) to resist any and all outside foreign intervention including from South Korea,” Maxwell said, adding that it would be complicated by Pyongyang’s nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons.
Chun said that a U.S.-South Korean-led invasion would be unlikely.
“What are we going to do? March in there? Let the Chinese do it,” Chun told the paper, adding that “anyone going in there, including the Chinese, would be crazy.”