All contingencies are offNorth Korea’s power succession has sped up in a drastic way. Since being appointed vice chairman of the Workers’ Party’s Central Committee on Sept. 28, Kim Jong-il’s heir apparent, Kim Jong-un, joined his father in a crucial ceremony commemorating the 65th anniversary of the ruling party. He also watched a military parade at the May 1st Stadium in Pyongyang with the foreign press corps looking on, making the third-generation dynastic succession official to the outside world.
Such a speedy transfer looks extraordinary. Compared to when Kim Il Sung transferred his power to his son Kim Jong-il, North Korea seems to be pushing this process in a hurry. After designating Kim Jong-il as his successor, Kim Il Sung didn’t make it public for six years. Even after Kim Jong-il became the official heir in 1980, he started to gain his power over the military 10 years later. Hwang Jang-yop, the highest- ranking North Korean ever to defect to South Korea, said that North Korea was co-governed by Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong-il from 1974 to 1994, when Kim Il Sung died.
North Korea’s need to consolidate the succession as urgently as possible stems from Kim Jong-il’s ever-deteriorating health.
At the commemorating ceremony, he looked very sick. When clapping during the event, his left hand dropped noticeably. That heralds a new reality in which we must deal with a 20-something leader governing the povertystricken country while the supreme leader is critically ill.
North Korea still maintains enormous military power. Its asymmetrical arsenal — comprised of more than 1,000 ballistic missiles, over 200,000 special forces, 2,500 to 5,000 tons of chemical weapons and 600 to 700 top computer hackers — can pose a direct threat to our security any time. And the armed forces, the lynchpin of Kim’s power, are intrinsically against reconciliation, as shown by the North’s torpedo attack against our warship Cheonan.
No one knows how the relationship between North and South Korea will change. We have entered a dangerous phase. In this light, we welcome the results of the 42nd Security Consultative Meeting between South Korea and the U.S. as both sides used such words as “instability in North Korea” for the first time, urging countermeasures through strategic planning. Preparing a solid framework for close cooperation between the two allies is, of course, important. But more important is how to strengthen our own preparedness, no matter what. We should never forget former Prime Minister Goh Kun’s remarks: “As we don’t have any countermeasures at a time of contingency on this peninsula, I can’t get a wink of sleep at night.”