The news out of North Korea that leader Kim Jong Il has died, while surprising, is not completely unexpected. Faced with serious health concerns over the last few years, the North Korean leader began to put in place a plan for his son to take over the reins of power.
While there were many questions over the past few years surrounding the inexperience of his son and whether he — or the military — would really be in charge in the event of Kim Jong Il's death, when the news hit the wires it was accompanied by the clear statement that Kim Jong Un would be taking over. This would seem to lay those questions to rest. However, we could be in for a lengthy process of consolidation.
When Kim Jong Il came to power following his father's death, it is believed that it took him years to consolidate his power, and this is despite the fact that he had been groomed for many years been as his father's successor. Kim Jong Un has only come onto the scene over the last few years and has really only taken a more prominent position in the past year. It could take him considerably more time than his father to consolidate his power.
This, of course, presents risks to North Korea's neighbors, who are already concerned with the North's nuclear programs and repressive regime. With a presidential election upcoming in the United States and a leadership transition planned for later next year in China, events which by themselves would have added to uncertainty in the region, the death of Kim Jong Il makes the situation in the region a whole lot more interesting.