Managing North Korea’s Collapse

With signs pointing to mounting turmoil among North Korea's ruling elite, the time has come for China, South Korea, and the US to define their roles should the Kim regime collapse. While the US would be required to intervene in any military confrontation, South Korea is well equipped to take the lead should the end come peacefully.

LOS ANGELES – In the last few months, North Korea has again displayed remarkable temerity. First, the regime threatened to conduct more nuclear tests if the United Nations does not withdraw its recommendation to prosecute the country’s leaders for crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court. Moreover, US officials claim that the regime mounted a clandestine cyber attack on Sony Pictures, allegedly over objections to “The Interview,” a slapstick movie premised on an assassination attempt against North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un. Then, in yet another melodramatic twist, Kim offered in his New Year’s address to resume talks with South Korea.

The Kim regime’s actions obviously merit consideration. But they should not divert attention from the real risks on the Korean Peninsula: Kim’s uncertain grip on power and the dangers that could be unleashed should his regime fall apart. Indeed, none of the region’s key strategic players – China, the United States, and South Korea – seem to be adequately prepared for such a scenario.

That needs to change. Crucially, the long-standing presumption that the US should take the lead in responding to what happens in North Korea also needs to be reconsidered.

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