When one talks about the future of North Korea, one usually discusses the Korean peninsula unified by Seoul. Less often, people talk about the DPRK being invaded and ruled by China. And, of course, there is the possibility of the country still being ruled by the Kims in the 2050s.
But here I would like to examine another scenario, in which Kim Jong Un is overthrown by a coup but North Korea survives as a separate country. So let us suppose that it happened: Kim is dead and the power is given to, let us say, General X. How will this man proceed? And how would North Korea fare under the rule of a non-member of the Paektu bloodline?
LESS LEGITIMATE, BUT QUITE STABLE
Firstly, this new leader will have to legitimize their rule. Apart from the technical procedures, such as amending the Constitution and getting the Supreme People’s Assembly to unanimously vote for him, there is a big question of what kind of ideology the country would pursue.
The main question would be what to do with the Kim family legacy. Would he embrace them all as his glorious predecessors? Or reject Kim Jong Un – and maybe his father? Or, maybe, he’d even criticize Kim Il Sung?
The deeper the criticism would be, the more radical reforms the new leader could afford, and, sadly, the less stable North Korea would be. Lessons from both the Soviet Union and the DPRK show that de-Stalinization – in any of its variations – ultimately dooms the system.
When people are no longer presented with one coherent narrative of ever-great rulers succeeding one another, they start asking questions and the certainty that would normally serve as a foundation of the regime disappears.
However, General X might be able to provide a better foundation for his rule than faith and oppression: if a non-Kim junta ever rises in power in North Korea, the country’s perspectives for economic growth would be significantly brighter.
When people are no longer presented with one coherent narrative of ever-great rulers succeeding one another, they start asking questions
REFORMS ARE LIKELY
People always have expectations of new leaders, and potential investors would begin looking for major announcements of changes to the country’s policy. It would be wise for General X to officially announce that investors are friends of the country and that those who cheat them are enemies of the people.
Given that the terrible reputation of the Kim family would affect General X much less than it would affect Kim Jong Un, if willing, the new leader would be able to be much more successful in luring investors than the Kims ever was.
The same goes with economic reforms. Reforms made by Kim Jong Il or Kim Jong Un could never be in direct contradiction with Kim Il Sung’s teachings, and General X may choose to focus his criticism on economic affairs.
Legalization of markets, support for traders and small business, the abolition of most travel restrictions inside the country and changes in policy regarding exit visas, announced in the Rodong Sinmun of course, would be welcomed by both the DPRK’s population and the international community.
The result would be economic growth – which will probably guarantee General X regime stability for quite some time. He may very well pass away in his sleep and it would be his successor who would have to deal with a now well-fed and dressed people demanding personal – and even political – freedoms.
Finally, General X would also be able to surrender the nuclear program in return for investment. Such a decision would be much easier for him to make than it would be for the Kim family – they have a reputation as die-hard enemies of the West and nukes are seen by them as a necessity for survival.
A reformist military government would need to worry much less about a possible invasion, so a deal would be possible (but it would have to be a really good one).
Given that more than a half of the attention the DPRK gets is focused on the country’s missile and nuclear programs, such a gesture would be met with universal relief and applause. This would strengthen the rule of General X even more – and make the economic prospects for the DPRK even brighter.
The new leader would be able to be much more successful in luring investors than the Kims ever had
The rule of General X would certainly not be a paradise and it is not likely that it would bring an economic miracle. Of course, many people could point at Park Chung-hee’s South Korea as a potential counterexample, but Park was an ally of the United States and of the West, not an enemy-turned-partner, like our hypothetical leader would be.
Also, the military academies of Manchukuo and Japan, from which Park was a graduate, while not exactly being bastions of liberal thought, still gave one much better and objective image of the economy than General X’s likely alma mater – Kim Il Sung Military University.
Still, there would be much less personality cult, better human rights, more economic growth and more personal freedom. Which is certainly a much brighter perspective than what we have today. And who knows, General X may have already appeared alongside Kim Jong Un.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: NK News
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