Reliable Security Information
North Korea After Kim

Introduction

Reports that North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il has been ailing since he reportedly suffered a stroke in August 2008 have sparked intense speculation about the future of the country without him. North Korea, a nuclear-armed country under Communist rule, is one of the most closed-off societies in the world. A September 2008 CFR Council Special Report says there is a possibility North Korea might intentionally transfer nuclear weapons or materials to a terrorist group, and thus merits Cold War-style methods of deterrence from the United States. While some experts believe the country might see some reform in the period after Kim, others see little hope for change, especially in the ongoing effort to rid North Korea of its nuclear weapons.

Transfer of Power

Since its founding in 1945, North Korea has been under the leadership of the Kim dynasty. Known as the "Great Leader," Kim Il-Sung ruled from 1945 until his death in 1994. His son, Kim Jong-Il, the "Dear Leader," took over as head of state in 1994 and is nowsixty-six. Both father and son have ruled the country as an absolute dictatorship. Experts have often characterized North Korea as a failed state that is unable to provide for its people. Gary Samore, CFR's vice president and an expert on North Korea, says it is probably the most brutal regime in the world today.

Kim Jong-Il has three sons buthas not announced his successor, leading to worries about who will control the country after him and if the transition will be peaceful. According  to news reports, Kim suffered a stroke in August 2008, though  North Korean officials denied he was ill. In January 2009, he reportedly met with a foreign envoy (Hankyoreh) from China.

While the extent of...

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