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Kim Jong Il is dead. While it is never clear whether history creates a leader, or a leader creates history, one thing is clear: The more a leader dominates power over a nation, the more its regime's fate will be changed by that leader’s death. So where is North Korea headed after Kim Jong Il’s death?
Though it wasn't always obvious, the main international migraine of this year was the European debt crisis. The crisis left the station in 2009 and was rolling all through 2010, but it really picked up steam this year. In effect, 2011 was the year it went from being about Greece to being about Europe and, potentially, the world as a whole.
Americans say in poll after poll that they yearn for a leader who will come to Washington, cut through the gridlock, and get the nation’s business done. This year, that leader arrived — South Korean President Lee Myung-bak.
When long-time North Korean dictator Kim Il Sung died in 1994, nervous South Koreans rushed to the stores and hoarded basic necessities such as rice, canned meat and instant noodles in fear of another Korean War. The "Great Leader" was dead and his son, Kim Jong Il was taking over. This was uncharted territory.
Kim Jong Il's reported death on December 17 is the biggest shock to the country's regime since the passing of his father in 1994. Forecasting what will happen to an authoritarian regime after a leadership succession is inherently rather speculative, and nowhere is this more true than in North Korea. However, we can venture a few observations, and in very broad terms estimate the probability of various types of scenarios.
It would be understandable if, observing the post-Kim Jong Il era, the United States, China, South Korea and Japan saw more peril than promise. However, the history of North Korean negotiation indicates a small possibility of progress toward peace on the Korean peninsula and North Korea’s denuclearization.
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