'The Great Successor'
There's no guarantee that the North Korean military will accept another hereditary ruler

A propagandistic picture of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il stands near Kimilsungia-Kimjonglia Exhibition Hall in Pyongyang, North Korea.

Article Highlights

  • There's no guarantee that the North Korean military will accept another hereditary ruler

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  • Reports are that Kim Jong Il's death went undisclosed publicly for days, perhaps indicating a power struggle under way

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  • Many generals may simply not accept that Leader 3.0 is competent or merits their support.

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North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il's death opens a period of intense danger and risk, but also potentially enormous opportunity for America and its allies. Kim's health had obviously been poor for some time, and his regime has worked "There is no reason whatever to believe that opinion among the military leadership will be unanimous, either to support or oppose the regime's succession plan." --John R. Boltonto ensure an orderly transition to his son, Kim Jong Eun. The Kim family and its supporters, with everything obviously at stake, will work strenuously to convey stability and control. Indeed, the official North Korea news agency has already referred to Jong Eun as "the great successor to the revolutionary cause."

But the loathsome Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea (DPRK) is not a constitutional monarchy like Britain. While DPRK founder Kim Il Sung was powerful enough to impose his son, no guarantees exist that the North's military, the real power, will meekly accept rule by his utterly inexperienced grandson.

Under the surface in Pyongyang, the maneuvering has almost certainly already begun. There is no reason whatever to believe that opinion among the military leadership will be unanimous, either to support or oppose the regime's succession plan. In fact, the early reports are that Kim Jong Il's death went undisclosed publicly for days, perhaps indicating a power struggle already under way. Many generals may simply not accept that Leader 3.0 is competent or merits their support.

John R. Bolton is a senior fellow at AEI.

The full text of this article is currently available to Wall Street Journal subscribers. The full text will be posted here on Monday, Dec. 26.

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John R.
Bolton
  • John R. Bolton, a diplomat and a lawyer, has spent many years in public service. From August 2005 to December 2006, he served as the U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations. From 2001 to 2005, he was under secretary of state for arms control and international security. At AEI, Ambassador Bolton's area of research is U.S. foreign and national security policy.

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