A particularly risky scenarioThe report that there was an attempt to kill Kim Jong-un, first chairman of North Korea’s Central Military Commission, in Pyongyang last year is shocking. To confirm the veracity of the report, additional information is needed. But if it’s true, security authorities in South Korea should be on the highest alert. If the North Korean leader faces an unexpected death in an emergency situation, it will definitely cause massive chaos in the reclusive nation and probably on the entire peninsula.
Such an unimaginable crisis would no doubt lead to an exacerbation of conflict among North Korean leaders, which would sharply raise the likelihood of military provocations against the South. If such chaos occurs after Pyongyang completes the process of making nuclear bombs, it will trigger an even bigger crisis.
Our intelligence authorities believe that Pyongyang’s latest round of tension escalation on the peninsula, including Pyongyang’s proclamation of a nullification of the six-decade old armistice, could be connected to the assassination attempt last year. After surviving the attempt, Kim Jong-un decided to join forces with hardliners in the military to reinforce his power base and stabilize his regime. If that proves true, he will most likely adhere to hard attitudes toward the outside world including South Korea for quite a long period of time, which means the North will likely conduct large-scale provocations similar to its attacks on the Cheonan warship and Yeonpyong Island in 2011 or in some other unprecedented way.
Security experts say that Pyongyang’s latest round of bellicose rhetoric was elaborately prepared and will continue for a while to boost worries about a nuclear war on the peninsula. That strategy is nothing new given Pyongyang’s previous behavior. But our government should not lower its guard against Pyongyang’s intention of prolonging a sense of crisis on the peninsula since it conducted a third nuclear test last month.
Our security authorities must quickly come up with a set of measures to cope with any emergencies coming from the North including the possibility of Kim Jong-un being killed in an internal power struggle. The government must drastically intensify its capability to gather intelligence on the North’s weapons of mass destruction, including chemical and biological weapons, to swiftly respond to any and all provocations.
At the same time, the government should brace for the possibility that Pyongyang will keep ratcheting up the tension if it wants to minimize the shocks on the economy.