B. R. Myers, who teaches North Korean studies at Korea University in South Korea, speculates on what will happen if Kim Jong Il kicks it:

The Dear Leader’s death will elicit much the same sort of hysteria that followed his father’s passing. The wails will derive less from genuine grief than from fear and uncertainty, just as many South Koreans wept after Park Chung Hee’s assassination simply because they could not imagine national life without him. Whoever takes over, whether he is of Kim’s family or not, must at least be seen as bearing Kim’s seal of approval. Should the Dear Leader fail to anoint a successor in his lifetime, the regime will just have to pretend that he did; various statements to that effect will be faked up and put into print. Stalin resorted to similar deceptions to legitimize his own rule.

This will not be all. As happened in 1994, the propaganda apparatus must play on the masses’ xenophobia in order to rally them around the new leader. In all likelihood, the regime will sharply ratchet up the level of tension with Washington, the better to tout the inevitable American plea for negotiations as a waving of the white flag. (Washington’s eschewal of a military solution to the nuclear standoff is always mocked in the North as proof of Yankee cowardice.) But we can expect plenty of provocations even if Kim Jong Il stays alive; a “military first” leader who is no longer fit to visit army bases or review parades has to find other, more dangerous ways of conveying strength and toughness. In short, we should be thinking less about the transition of North Korean power, and more about the worldview that Kim and all his potential successors have in common.

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