Lankov’s North Korea scenarios…

As Marcus Noland has noted, one of the most difficult aspects of developing scenarios of North Korea’s future is that we do not know Kim Jong il’s vision for the DPRK after he has passed. Is he grooming members of his family to take his place or just to make sure they are wealthy and protected? Is Kim looking at China as a model? Some reports claim he is looking at Thailand’s royal family. What about a military dictatorship?

This week, Andrei Lankov weighs in with several scenarios he has outlined in four Daily NK stories:

Scenario 1:Kim Jong il follows the China/Vietnam model. Agriculture privatized along with a number of small- medium-sized firms. Workers Party remains in control. Lankov believes this scenario politically unobtainable since the inflow of knowledge of the outside world, particularly of the wealth in South Korea, will make incumbent political legitimacy almost impossible to maintain.

Scenario 2: The North Korean regime collapses because it does not have the power or resources to maintain its authority. If this happens, South Korean might not have any choice but to move to take over despite the high economic costs.

Scenario 3:If North Korea does collapse, South Korea does not have to be the only government to assert control in the territory. China has political and economic incentives to be heavily involved in North Korea’s re-composition, or to enter into a protective relationship with incumbent North Korean authorities. Market reforms would follow and opposition would be manageable.

Scenario 4: Weak political power gives various factions (including the military) space to revolt. Neither China nor South Korea want to get involved in an internal clash and North Korea descends into medium-term chaos.

Taking a step back, I use Lankov’s examples to build a broader scenario map using his drivers (regime strength/weakness and foreign intervention/non-intervention):


(Click on image for larger view)

Along the vertical axis is the strength of the DPRK’s central government. It is strong in the top two quadrants and weak in the bottom two quadrants. Along the horizontal axis is intervention or non-intervention by China or South Korea.

Using this framework, we see that Lankov’s first scenario falls into quadrant 2 (upper right), and economic reforms lead to a weakening of the central government, pushing the country into quadrants 3 or 4. This transition is based on the notion that the North Korean central government, or whichever coalition holds it together, can’t survive an economic transition, mainly due to the visible success of South Korea. I think this is an interesting argument, but I am not entirely convinced by it. Hong Kong is not inspiring revolts in China for the same reasons that North Korea does not need to fall prey to political upheaval—mainly, keep people from organizing and dispersing information, and make sure that some fraction of the productive gains from economic reforms are strategically redistributed as political rents. Of course, it would be interesting to see if a communist government could survive in Hong Kong if China was the giant, capitalist neighbor.

Special shout out to Herman Khan here.

Comments welcome.

ReadLinks to Lankov’s articles below the fold:

Market Reform the Chinese Way
Daily NK
Andrei Lankov

Unification by Co-Option into South Korea
Daily NK
Andrei Lankov

Establishment of a Pro-Chinese Regime
Daily NK
Andrei Lankov

Long Term Chaos and South Korea’s Duty
Daily NK
Andrei Lankov


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