The prospect of political change in North Korea is a recurring question, buoyed by media speculation regarding the health of the current leader, Kim Jong-Il, the dearth of information about his succession and concern for the potential instability that could occur.
Australian interest stems from the possibility that political change in North Korea could potentially affect the economic viability of the region, which contains Australia’s three largest export markets of China, South Korea and Japan. Political change in North Korea could potentially require Australian assistance in humanitarian and/or military operations.
There are four scenarios for political change in North Korea. These are: hereditary or other familial succession, a smooth transferral of power to another centre of power, such as the military, forced political change through coup or revolution, and the disintegration of the state and its ultimate absorption by South Korea. Each scenario has specific warning signs that are yet to appear.
The key determinants of political change in North Korea are likely to be the military, external powers and the economy. Each of these determinants plays a central role in the political viability of the current North Korean leadership. There are several triggers of political change in North Korea, one of which is the deterioration in the health of current leader, Kim Jong-Il.
Given the potential economic and security impact, the issue of political change in North Korea is something that Australia and the region should be prepared to address.