The changing of the guard in North Korea poses clear risks for the United States.
Kim Jong Il's son Kim Jong Un is the likely successor. But he's still in his 20s and has had little time to prepare to take over the country. Analysts say that because he's weak, he won't be in any position to get back to nuclear disarmament talks and make concessions.
Kim Jong Un may also be tempted to take provocative actions to establish his leadership credentials, and the Obama administration has to take all this into account as it decides on next steps.
Originally published on Mon December 19, 2011 1:03 pm
There's certainly already been a lot said about North Korea's Kim Jong Il. NPR's Anthony Kuhn has an obit and Planet Money has a recap of how North Korea's economy is fueled by drug dealing and smuggling of counterfeit goods.
It's been two years since Kim Jong Un effectively became North Korea's "Great Successor" and heir to the seat of power in the communist nation run by a family dynasty — a dynasty that began with his grandfather, Kim Il Sung (the "Great Leader") and continued with his father, Kim Jong Il (the "Dear Leader").
But in that time about the only new thing we know is that he's two years older and now thought to be in his late 20s. And, that he appears about to become at least the titular head of an impoverished nation that threatens its richer neighbor to the south with nuclear weapons
Kim, whose official age was 69 but who actually was 70, died Saturday of a heart attack, according to North Korean state media.
He leaves behind a pretty much officially designated heir, his son Kim Jong Un, whose age is about 29. The young man has been given exalted titles including full general but has little experience compared with what his father had under his belt when Kim Jong Il's own father and predecessor, Kim Il Sung, died in 1994.
Known for its sometimes irreverent way of illustrating world events, The Economist magazine has over the years been quite creative when it's cover subject was North Korean leader Kim Jong Il (who died Saturday at the age of 69).