Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Coming Collapse of North Korea

This has been predicted before, but a regime can be this dysfunctional for only so long before it can no longer be sustained.

HALLORAN: North Korean collapse?
An array of intelligence analysts, Asian and American scholars, specialists in think tanks, and workers in relief organizations have renewed speculation that the North Korean regime of Kim Jong-il is in danger of collapsing because that nation is on the brink of mass starvation and mounting isolation.

No one will even guess when this might happen - within a year, more likely within five years, and almost surely within 10 years? Will the collapse be a "soft landing" in which Mr. Kim's regime gradually falls apart with the pieces picked up by the South Koreans, or will it be a "hard landing" in which Mr. Kim's regime implodes and chaos sweeps the land?

The consequences of a regime change in Pyongyang could be staggering. Immediately, U.S., South Korean and Chinese troops could charge into North Korea to secure its nuclear facilities - and confront each other. Midterm, reviving North Korea could cost South Korea, Japan, China and the United States enormous sums. Long term, a reunited Korea would change the power balance of East Asia - but unpredictably.

Analysts everywhere point to a decade of hunger that has left 7-year-old North Korean children 8 inches shorter and 20 pounds lighter than their South Korean cousins. North Korean soldiers in a regime that gives priority to the military forces have been reduced to two skimpy meals a day. Factory workers nap on the floor for lack of food and energy.

That has led to conjecture that North Koreans, despite the pervasive controls in the Hermit Kingdom's police state, may throw caution to the winds. "We just don't think they can go along with this much longer," said an American official with access to intelligence assessments.

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