Why it doesn’t matter whether Kim Jong-un lives or dies

For weeks, people around the globe have been receiving news about the possible death of the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Speculation on who would be (able) to replace the 36-year-old dictator has caused quite a stir around the world.

Some political analysts have already proclaimed a possible downfall of the dictatorial regime following the death of their righteous leader. But what would be the fallout of this regime collapse for the international community and the stability of the region?

Since 1948, North Korea placed itself on the world map as a military power to be reckoned with, mostly because of its unpredictability. They still strongly believe in what we call the ‘balance of power’ where a state relies on their military power and political alliances with friendly states rather than economic ties or intergovernmental organizations such as the United Nations.

This realist view on international relations (outlined by Kenneth Waltz) was the dominant political philosophy during the past century until the fall of the Berlin wall in 1991. Additionally, with the rise of China as a third world power, the tension between the US and the Soviet Union as the two super powers began to deteriorate. From then, most states started to focus on building economic and institutional bonds instead of military alliances such as NATO or the US-Japan peace treaty. Now, waging a war between states would be an economic disaster for the individual states because of the economic dependency between them.

North Korea on the other hand, has not yet given up on their realist view. Like a relic from the past, they keep arming themselves and sending images of their military power into the world. The only economic dependency that the so-called Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has at the moment, is China. China is responsible for around 85% of the import and export from and to the country. But there is no alliance of any sort between the two countries other than purely for raw materials such as coal and clothing.

This situation isn’t something that can be changed overnight, or even with the death of Kim Jong-un. Even his persona and that of his grandfather may die, but the aggressive regime will keep on existing because they lack the economic or social ties with other states to otherwise maintain their sovereignty.

The only future for the Northern part of the Korean Peninsula is changing the framework by which they operate and breaking through the cyclic, never changing approach of power politics. The death of Kim Jong-un would only postpone this change. The regime would most likely fall into the hands of the high generals, Kim’s sister Kim Yo-jong would probably not be respected because of her younger age and gender.

To put it short — in a world where we follow a realist view on international relations — there wouldn’t be any major consequences following the death of Kim Jong-un.

As long as the idea of the dichotomy between North Korea and the world doesn’t change, there will never be a real regime change. No matter the leader. The North Korean government will have to turn itself to the international community (note: individual states) to be able to survive. The regime, under Kim Jong-un or somebody else, cannot exist much longer without building alliances with other states, both economically and military in this modern world of globalisation and economic dependency.



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